To bring down the big guns

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Wimbledon 2019 - Vicki Hodges

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

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