To bring down the big guns
when I then wasn’t picking up results, it was hard. I knew where I wanted to be and had a feeling I belonged there. It was tough but, because I had that success, it kept me hungry and motivated to get back there.”
After spending much of her teenage life in the UK while she trained under David Felgate at a tennis centre in London, Wimbledon provides a sense of homecoming for the self-assured Vekic.
Nottingham, too, brings fond memories and the 22nd seed came agonisingly close to winning her second title there in three years, only to lose in a third-set tiebreak to France’s Caroline Garcia in the final.
The Wimbledon draw has not been kind to Vekic, whose relationship with three-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka ended after four years ahead of the French Open in May. While the initial focus has been on the oldest player in 39-year-old Venus Williams drawing the youngest in 15-year-old qualifier Cori Gauff, the Croatian has landed herself in a quarter loaded with former winners Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Garbine Muguruza, current champion Angelique Kerber and world No1 Ashleigh Barty.
Vekic must first overcome American and world No54 Alison Riske but is aware of the potential dangers around the corner.
“Normally I don’t look ahead at the draw but, as everyone was talking about how tough it was, I couldn’t help but look,” she said.
“I reached the fourth round of the French Open too this year but the next step is to regularly make the second week of the grand slams, the quarters and semis. I think that’s definitely possible. “At the start of the year I said I wanted to finish around top 15. I’m close to that mark now so have to keep going.” Vekic, who was born in Osijek, grew up in a sporting family but one without tennis ties. While her grandmother, a former PE teacher, can lay claim on discovering one of Croatia’s greatest footballers, Davor Suker, Vekic opted for a path in tennis. “My mum was into athletics, my dad into football. No one in my family had really played tennis before. I enjoyed gymnastics, liked team sports, as I’m a team player, but then found tennis.” Can the tennis circuit become an isolated one for someone who prefers to mix in team circles? “Not at all,” she says. “I have a few close friends on the tour. I have a really good friend in Maria Sakkari. It’s not easy when we play each other but we just have to put that to one side and have fun.” A glass half-full character, even Vekic will believe facing her 31st-seeded friend at Wimbledon is unlikely given the pair are in opposite sides of the draw so could not meet until the final. But the likelihood is that it will be only a matter of when rather than if Vekic makes her mark at a slam – and where better to do it than on familiar turf. Seed: No 22 First round: Alison Riske (US) Big guns in way: Serena Williams, Ashleigh Barty, Angelique Kerber