Donna Vekic celebrates after beating top seed Johanna Konta in the final of the Nottingham Open.
Donna Vekic celebrates after beating top seed Johanna Konta in the final of the Nottingham Open. Joe Giddens

Vekic returns to form after tennis sex triangle talk

TENNIS: Donna Vekic, an unwitting protagonist in the whispered tale of a tennis sex triangle, won a Wimbledon tune-up event at the weekend to remind the world why she was once considered one of the sport's hottest prospects.

Vekic, still just 20 years old, won her first tour tournament three years ago as a teenager, but had endured tough times before a major breakthrough win at the Nottingham grass-court event over world No. 8 Johanna Konta.

Vekic is probably best known now as the girlfriend of Swiss three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka.

Two years ago, she was dragged into the most salacious story to hit tennis in years, when Australian Nick Kyrgios was overheard on a courtside microphone nastily taunting Wawrinka by telling him: "Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that, mate."


Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka watches Croatia's Donna Vekic playing China's Shuai Zhang during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Monday, May 29, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka watches girlfriend Donna Vekic in action. Michel Euler

Kyrgios was referring to Thanasi Kokkinakis, an Australian who at the time was mixed doubles partners with Vekic.

The gossipy fallout sent Vekic's career into something of a tailspin.

She was seen weeping at the next major event, the US Open in 2015 forcing a chair umpire to ask her if she was "all right".

After struggling on the court that day she offered only one comment on the scandal created by Kyrgios' infamous comment, saying it was ridiculous that he wasn't suspended immediately by the ATP.

"He didn't get suspended. It's ridiculous. No more comment on this," she said.

Now, it appears, she is much closer to returning to the career trajectory previously forecast for her as a remarkable teenage prospect.

"It's pretty amazing. The last time I played a final, I wasn't allowed to have champagne," she told the crowd after her win.

"I'm going to drink a bottle of champagne with my team to celebrate."

At the age of 16, Vekic reached her first WTA Tour final in Tashkent (in 2012) and was runner-up in another Wimbledon warm-up event in Birmingham (in June 2013), prompting former champion Chris Evert to predict a top-10 career for Vekic, a native of Croatia. But she has never come remotely near those heights.

Yet with her 21st birthday coming later this month, Sunday's victory over Konta felt like the tennis coming-of-age for a player who had finished outside the top 100 in the past two seasons, but who now reckons she has become older and wiser.


Croatia's Donna Vekic in action against Greece's Maria Sakkari during day five of the Nottingham Open at Nottingham Tennis Centre, England,  Friday June 16, 2017. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)
Croatia's Donna Vekic reaches for a forehand in the final of the Nottingham Open. Tim Goode

The hard-hitting Vekic prevailed, 2-6, 7-6(3), 7-5, in a thrilling two-and-a-half-hour contest in which momentum switched dramatically.

It was her second tight tussle in 24 hours, following her dramatic semi-final win over Lucie Safarova.

"She was able to continuously raise her level throughout that match and I was just not able to stay with her, so full credit to her for playing incredibly well," Konta said.

Konta outclassed the nervy Vekic in the opening set, but the world No. 70 gradually relaxed and went for broke, finding the lines consistently with her bigger groundstrokes.

After Vekic let a 3-1 lead slip in the deciding set, Konta appeared to be surging toward the title as she moved into a 4-3 lead, but the Croatian held her nerve to break for a 6-5 lead and then served out for victory.