ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - No.8 seed Donna Vekic will contest the first WTA Premier-level final of her career after stopping the resurgent Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
The 22-year-old Vekic has been a regular fixture on the tour for years, ever since she lifted her first WTA trophy at Kuala Lumpur at the age of 17. But it’s taken her longer to come into her own and live up to her teenage promise, finally breaking the WTA’s Top 50 last season.
Now, she’s fresh off of her biggest-ever win-by-ranking after stunning Australian Open finalist and World No.2 Petra Kvitova in the last round. She carried her momentum against Zvonareva, the last Russian standing in St. Petersburg, and played nearly-untouchable tennis to seal the victory 6-2, 6-2 in a little more than an hour.
“Maybe the score doesn’t say it, but I think it was a tough match today,” Vekic told press afterwards. “We had a lot of long rallies and she really made me work hard for every point.”
Vekic was dialled in from the start up against Zvonareva, a former World No.2, at the Sibur Arena. She enjoyed plenty of opportunities with Zvonareva looking shaky at the beginning, and was rewarded early as she broke first at 2-1 and later extended her lead to 4-1 playing patient, but aggressive tennis.
She held a set point at 5-2 that would have made it three breaks in a row, but Zvonareva’s dogged defense held up to fight it off. But Vekic got things done at the next opportunity, calmly serving out the set after 39 minutes.
The second set unfolded in much the same pattern: an early break for Vekic at 2-1 put her in the driver’s seat, and then she extended her lead to a daunting 4-1. The Croatian’s early ball striking kept Zvonareva on the ropes, who was forced to go for bigger shots - drawing out the unforced errors from the Russian’s racquet. This time, Vekic served it out with confidence, converting her second match point to seal her spot into the St. Petersburg final.
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Vekic rained down 21 winners against Zvonareva’s seven, offset by her 24 unforced errors to Zvonareva’s 18. But the real key to the match was in the Croatian’s serve: Vekic was serving at 66% of first serves, allowing her to dictate the rallies and as a result, she won 86% of points behind her first delivery.
Standing between Vekic and the biggest title of her career is No.2 seed Kiki Bertens, who dispatched the big-hitting Aryna Sabalenka earlier in the day, 7-6(5), 6-2. Vekic owns a 3-1 lead in the pair’s head-to-head record, including a win in Brisbane back in January.
“I definitely want to see myself [ranked] higher at the end of the year,” said Vekic, who is projected to reach a career-high ranking. “But the year is long and for now I just want to focus on tomorrow and hopefully I will win, and that will be good for the rankings, but most importantly keep improving on the court and working a lot on the fitness.
“And if I keep doing the right things the ranking will follow.”