BRISBANE, Australia – WTA World No.34 Donna Vekic saved two match points to secure a stunning 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-5 victory over two hours and 22 minutes against No.6 seed Kiki Bertens to move through to the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International.
Vekic found herself 5-4, 40-15 down on the Bertens serve in the decider and seemed destined for the exit before rallying in a remarkable manner to win four successive points, salvaging the game and ultimately the match.
She had completed a similar escape in the first, in which she saved a set point, albeit on her own serve, but was swept aside in the second.
“It was a great match, we both fought until the last point,” she said after her sixth Top 10 career victory. “I save two match points and I’m really proud of that.”
Both players made high unforced error counts and Vekic admitted that her victory was as much down to mental and physical strength as anything else.
“I felt really clumsy today, like I was going to fall over my feet every second,” she said. “It was definitely physical out there, and I'm really happy to have this kind of match in the first tournament, to see how much I can push myself.Obviously I can play long, play well and win, so I'm really happy about that.”
The opening four games of the match were shared on serve before Bertens made the breakthrough in the fifth, sparking a run of three successive breaks that allowed the Dutchwoman to earn a set point at 3-5.
Vekic saw off the threat and promptly broke back, sending the opening set spinning towards a tiebreak as both players subsequently held to love.
The 22-year-old established a 3-0 lead in the decider but surrendered the next four points and seemed in trouble before storming back to piece together a sequence of four of her own to take the opener after almost an hour.
If the first set was a tight affair, the second was thoroughly one sided in Bertens’ favor.
It was defined in the opening game, in which she served. Trailing 15-40, she appeared to be in a hole yet fought off three break points to gain a foothold.
— WTA (@WTA) January 2, 2019
Although Vekic took the next, the player from the Netherlands had found her rhythm and won the next five games to level the score. Bertens did so largely without a fight as her opponent only threatened in the final two games.
“I tried to get my intensity back,” she reflected on her improvement towards the end of the set. “It kind of put me back in the match.”
Nevertheless, history began to repeat itself at the outset of the decider as Vekic squandered another two break points as Bertens served 0-1 down. And matters grew increasingly complicated as she saw a 40-15 lead in the following game eradicated, though Bertens squandered three chances on advantage and the set remained level.
Serve would dominate the final set until the Dutchwoman fashioned another break point in the ninth game. A weak forehand error from her opponent presented it to her, and the match seemed to be hers as she served 40-15 up.
Vekic showed tremendous strength of character to reel off four points in succession against the serve and moved to within a game of victory as she rattled through her own service game.
“I had a good mindset because I broke her when she was serving for the set in the first, so I knew I had to keep fighting for every point and it worked out,” she said.
The momentum was by now with Vekic and she continued to ride her wave of success, taking the match at the first opportunity as Bertens made a weak error.
Top seed and defending champion Elina Svitolina is a potential opponent for Vekic in the last eight, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich is the other possibility.