In the opening skirmishes, Vekic showed just why so many are tipping her as a future Wimbledon champion, caning down huge serves and dispatching her rasping forehand deep to the corners, while Hantuchova tried to exploit the youngster’s inexperience with canny variation of pace and spin plus inch-perfect passing shots. After swapping early service breaks the set went to the tiebreak and Vekic proved her fighting spirit by battling back from 2-5 down to 5-all, only for Hantuchova, the former world number 5, to hit the sideline with a full-blooded forehand and reach set point. She duly converted this by forcing an error from her opponent and showed her grit in the second set, immediately breaking back after Vekic scored an early break with a string of huge groundstrokes.
Hantuchova who had already survived several close 3-setters, particularly against the ebullient Francesca Schiavone and giant-killer Alison Riske, looked utterly focussed, clenching her fist after each winner, while her camp roared encouragement. Leading by a set and 5-4, she showed miraculous reflexes as she anticipated a seeming winner from Vekic to pass the youngster, then shovelled back everything the teenager could throw at her and produced a final spurt of power to clinch her 6th WTA singles title on her first match point, 7-6 6-4.
She and her delighted team celebrated with a group dip in the Edgbaston Priory Club swimming pool before the Slovak explained how much the win meant to her.
“It tells me I can still compete at the highest level” she said. “I had so many long matches here all week, it’s been a great start to my grasscourt season and I just gave my best every single day. The big difference was that I stayed so tough mentally, digging deep and staying calm as I fought for every point.” She also paid tribute to her opponent, admitting
"Vekic is a very talented girl and she obviously has a great career ahead of her. She moves very well and has a great serve. She has a great team around her and I am sure we will hear a lot more from her in the future."
Vekic herself admitted to mixed emotions after losing her second WTA Tour final and despite taking an injury time-out in the second set with a locked rib, the teenager refused to blame this for her defeat.
“I’m never happy after I’ve lost” she admitted, “but she was the better player on the day. It wasn’t quite my best tennis but I gave it my all. The positives? I won five matches playing very well in my first senior event on grass and I definitely want to come back next year. My coach David Felgate and I get along very well and he just said I should go out and enjoy myself today – which I did.”
With both Hantuchova and Vekic unseeded for Wimbledon, they will be the ultimate “awkward floaters”, posing a threat to even the biggest names. Few of the seeds will relish being drawn against either in the opening rounds.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty images