BIRMINGHAM, England - Her down-the-lines deadly and her fighting spirit fierce, Daniela Hantuchova went all the way to the title at the Aegon Classic this past week, surviving some very close brushes with defeat en route to the final and then beating Donna Vekic in straight sets for her sixth WTA title.
Unseeded, Hantuchova knew she would have to lift her game at the Edgbaston Priory Club, and she did just that, taking out a slew of seeds en route to the final, namely No.7 seed Laura Robson, No.12 seed Kristina Mladenovic and No.15 seed Francesca Schiavone. The last two were particularly tricky, as she had to rally from 2-0 down in the second and third sets to beat Mladenovic, 36 76(6) 64, then come back from 4-1 down in the second and 3-0 down in the third to edge Schiavone, 67(8) 64 76(3).
After another three set win over American qualifier Alison Riske in the semifinals, Hantuchova took on fellow unseeded player Vekic in the final, Vekic having also taken out three seeds along the way. But the Slovak veteran was just too tough for the Croatian teenager by that point, squeaking out the first set in a tie-break then rallying from an early break down to close it out in straight sets, 76(5) 64.
"I'm always so happy coming back here year after year, and it feels great to finally get the title," Hantuchova said. "The first week on grass is always really demanding on the body, so I'm proud of how I made it through so many long matches throughout the week. And when I really needed to, I was tough mentally. Like in the match with Schiavone a few days ago, which was one of the most exciting matches of my career - when I was down, I stayed calm. I felt like everything came together this week.
"I've been playing here since '99, I think - it was about time I got the title!"
Hantuchova now has six WTA titles to her name, her first five coming at Indian Wells in 2002, Indian Wells and Linz in 2007, then Pattaya City in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012. This one could be especially meaningful, though, given it was her first since missing the entire clay court season last year with a foot injury - in fact, she hadn't even been to a final since that lay-off, until this week.
"It shows me I can still compete at the highest level, both physically and mentally," Hantuchova said. "It's actually so nice to see so many players from my generation doing so well, starting with Serena, obviously - what she's done over the last few years is just amazing. And Francesca, Roberta - it's nice to see the old way of playing still being so successful right now, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
And what about the big one? "Hopefully I get a better draw at Wimbledon than at Roland Garros," she said. "On grass I always feel it's my best chance. Unless it's Serena - I think we all know she's the favorite there. She's done so well there, and the way she's playing at the moment is unbelievable."
Vekic was trying to become the youngest player to win a WTA title since a 15-year-old Tamira Paszek won in Portoroz in 2006. She is now 0-2 in WTA finals, having been runner-up at Tashkent in 2012.
"I have mixed emotions right now," Vekic said. "I can't be happy after losing a match, but it was a great week for me and I'm happy I could reach the finals. And I gave it my all today - maybe it wasn't my best tennis, but it was the best I could do today, and Daniela was just the better player out there.
"I was happy to be playing the finals - hopefully I'll have many more matches like that."
Hantuchova was impressed. "She's a very talented girl," the former World No.5 said. "She moves very well and has a great serve, and that makes her play very well on grass. I haven't seen her play on the other surfaces, but she has a great team around her and I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot about her."