Vekic Making Most Of Her Opportunity At Courmayeur

Donna Vekic (photo: Francesco Peluso/Courmayeur Ladies Open)

COURMAYEUR/WASHINGTON, October 29, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Croatia’s Donna Vekic has shown much resilience in her run to the Courmayeur Ladies Open quarterfinals this week in the the northwest Italian Alpine resort town of Courmayeur, at the foot of Mont Blanc.

The No. 97 from Osijek, Croatia, who now resides in Monte Carlo, has strung together back-to-back straight-set wins over a pair of Chinese competitors to advance to the last eight this week. First, she defeated 151st-ranked qualifier Zheng Qinwen, 7-6 (1), 6-2, then followed it on Thursday by beating No. 77 Zheng Saisai, 6-3, 6-4, for her 153rd career main draw victory. It’s been one of Vekic’s best showings this season and only the third time that she’s won consecutive main draw matches.

While the 25-year-old Vekic has managed to win less than half of her matches this year – she enters her quarterfinal match against No. 110 Wang Xinyu of China on Friday 13-15 – and a lingering right knee injury kept her off the court from the end of the Australian Open until Roland Garros, she’s eager to make up for lost time. Now injury free after having surgery, this week Vekic has shown signs of her former self. She’s just two years removed from a career-best ranking of 19th in the world.

Against Zheng Saisai, she needed five set points to win the opening set. However, once she cleared that hurdle, she put away the straight-set victory that boosted her to her second quarterfinal berth of the 2021 season following a trip to the last eight at Birmingham on grass in June.

“I was very afraid of today’s match,” Vekic said in press after her second-round win. “We prepared for it for a long time with my coach because we knew that Zheng is a very intelligent player.

“In the past two months, I have collected a few too many defeats, but now I am on the right track. My goals is to play as many [matches] as possible, find the right shape, rest and then get off to a great start in 2022.”

Meanwhile, No. 9 seed Ann Li of the United States, coming off her first WTA tour-level title at Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands last week, was pushed hard by No. 102 Magdalena Frech of Poland before rallying to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, for her seventh straight victory. She will face No. 5 seed Clara Tauson of Denmark in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Other singles winners included: No. 7 seed Jasmine Paolini of Italy, who defeated 188th-ranked Italian wild card Lucrezia Stefanini, 6-4, 7-5; and No. 110 Wang Xinyu of China, who upset fellow countrywoman and eighth seed Zhang Shuai, ranked 58th, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Top three seeds advance at Cluj-Napoca

Top seeds Simona Halep of Romania, Anett Kontaveit of Estonia and Emma Raducanu of Great Britain continued their pursuit of winning the Transylvania Open title. Each won their respective second-round matches at Sala Polivalenta in Cluj-Napoca, Romania Thursday.

No. 1 seed Halep defeated No. 81 Varvara Gracheva of Russia, 6-4, 6-2, to advance against fellow Romanian Jaqueline Cristian. The World No. 18 from Constanta played through back pain during her one-hour and 14-minute win over Gracheva. She outpointed the Russian 63-45.

“The back got blocked and the pain is really big,” Halep said during her on-court interview following her victory. “You cannot really bend much and you cannot move. But sometimes, you are used to the pain. I had this before many times and I just wanted to continue and finish this match. It’s good that I won this match, I don’t know how.”

Although Halep will finish outside the Top 8 in the Porsche Race To The WTA Finals for the first time since 2013 – thanks to a variety of injuries including to her calf at mid-season – the former World No. 1 continues to play inspired tennis and it’s one of the reasons she played in Moscow last week, Cluj-Napoca this week and will play in Linz, Austria early next month.

At the bottom of the Transylvania Open draw, No. 2 seed Kontaveit beat No. 61 Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium, 6-3, 6-4, to win her 12th straight indoor match. She outpointed her opponent 66-49 during the 70-minute victory. The World No. 14 from Tallinn needs to win the Cluj-Napoca title to overtake Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur and secure the final spot in the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara field of eight. On Friday, she will play No. 8 seed Angelina Kalinina in the quarterfinals. No. 59 Kalinina is one of three Ukrainians remaining along with No. 6 seed Marta Kostyuk, ranked 55th, who will face No. 3 seed Raducanu of Great Britain, and 127th-ranked qualifier Lesia Tsurenko, who plays No. 99 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden.

The World No. 23 Raducanu, whose father is Romanian, beat 106th-ranked Ana Bogdan of Romania, 6-3, 6-4, in 90 minutes to reach her second tour-level quarterfinal. She converted three of six break points and outpointed her opponent 69-52.

“It’s definitely taking me some time to find my feet still,” Raducanu said in her on-court interview after her victory. “I’m just taking some learnings from every match that I play. I don’t think I’m the finished product yet.”