Donna Vekic has experienced more than her fair share of career turbulence - but after winning the Aegon Open, she's hoping for a new stage of smooth, steady progress.
Mark Hodgkinson

NOTTINGHAM, England - The jagged lines of Donna Vekic's tennis life have brought her, just days before she turns 21, to a career high in the WTA rankings. And perhaps - here's hoping - to the start of a new stage of smooth, steady progression. 

As the new World No. 58 put it in an exclusive interview, as she reflected on the ranking elevation that came through scoring her second career WTA title in Nottingham on Sunday: "Tennis isn't easy." 

And sometimes it's even trickier than that. In the relatively short time she has been on the scene, Vekic has experienced plenty of career turbulence, with more ups and downs than many others can fit into a decade or so of competitive tennis.

"I've learned a lot during these tough times and I'm stronger now as a person. I've been through lots of ups and downs in my career already, and there aren't many people who can say that when they are just 20 years old. I'm looking forward to the future and hope that I can play my best tennis again," Vekic said. 

At the age of just 16, Vekic appeared in a first WTA final in Tashkent in 2012, and also broke into the Top 100, and she was still only 17 years old when she took the 2014 tournament in Kuala Lumpur to become the youngest WTA singles champion for eight years. Unfortunately for the Croatian, the last couple years haven't passed quite as she might have imagined, and she finished both 2015 and 2016 with a triple-digit ranking. That was why last Sunday's final of the Aegon Open in Nottingham felt like such a significant moment as she defeated Johanna Konta to win her first WTA title for three years. 

Donna Vekic (Getty)
Donna Vekic

Normal? That has tended to elude Vekic during her career to date.

"The reason why I've had so many ups and downs? Maybe because I was in the Top 100 when I was 16, which isn't normal, and I won my first WTA title when I was 17, and that's not normal either. Maybe that was normal 10 or 15 years ago, but that's not normal in women's tennis now with girls developing later," said Vekic. 

Winning any title is a joy, but Vekic's Nottingham triumph was an occasion for undiluted happiness.

"That was just an amazing week," she observed. "It hasn't been easy, and that's why I'm pleased that I've been playing well this year. Maybe I haven't always been getting the wins I wanted, but I've been feeling good on the court. I've been playing better with every tournament and actually starting to have some confidence in my tennis. If anyone has been watching me for the last few months, they will see that everything is finally coming together for me."

It's not as if, Vekic noted, she had forgotten how to play tennis, and she has been slowly remembering how to grip and swing a racket. To pick up her game, she has made some technical tweaks, while working on her fitness and gaining in self-belief.

"I've improved my serve a lot, which has become a lot more consistent and reliable. There have been tough situations in the last few matches I've played and my serve has got me through them. I've also been taking care of my fitness, becoming fitter and stronger. I never forgot how to play tennis, but when you don't have confidence, tennis is not easy," she said. 

June has been a good month for 20-year-olds, with Jelena Ostapenko winning the French Open.

"That's not normal for 20-year-old girls to be winning Grand Slams," Vekic said. "I'm not going to go into Wimbledon thinking that I have a chance to win. I'm going to go in trying to win the first few rounds and just taking it one match at the time. I would like to end the season in the Top 50. I'm 58 now but there are still many months to go as it's a long season. There are tournaments every week and girls are playing and girls are fighting, so it's going to be tough." 

Just two days after winning the Nottingham title, Vekic lost her opening match at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham. Such is life on the WTA Tour. Tennis isn't easy. But that disappointment at the Edgbaston Priory Club should not obscure the story of Vekic's triumph in Nottingham, and a possible end to those jagged lines.