Monday, 19 June 2017

Aegon Open Nottingham Women's Tennis Final REVIEW

Donna Vekic, Aegon Open Nottingham Champion,  lifts the Elena Baltahca Trophy

Advantage Vekic

The Aegon Open Nottingham final ended with cordite hanging in the air following a shock victory in three sets by Donna Vekic over Johanna Konta.

This is the third season in the event’s present incarnation with Konta having made her debut here as a wild card in 2015 ranked 147 by the WTA. In between a semi-final in the Australian Open, a quarter-final in the Olympics and WTA premier wins have catapulted her both into the world’s top ten and -  not least following an outspoken appearance on Jonathan Ross – established her as a celebrity.

Arriving now as World No. 8 and facing an unfamiliar list of entrants, Konta had made smooth progress through to the final with her play attracting plaudits for its power and fluency. Expectation therefore on Sunday for the first WTA win by a British Woman on home soil since Sue Barker in Brighton 36 years ago were high.

However rankings have generally provided an unreliable yardstick for progress in Nottingham and in the striking form of Donna Vekic, Konta faced an opponent for whom the word combustible hardly does justice.

The World No. 70’s semi-final victory over the fancied Lucie Safarova was a three-set thriller characterised by dazzling stroke play interspersed with high drama. The Croatian has a natural sense of theatre which forms an integral part of her game.

In her Saturday evening performance, this found expression in her battling an internal monologue and exhibiting an emotional range that ran from ‘Theda Bara as Medusa’ glares at officials, to full on lung-busting rants sending the crowd scurrying to their phones to consult the Croatian option on Google translate.

The stage for Sunday’s final was set suitably for a diva therefore with a picture perfect Centre Court and blistering sun substitutes for a proscenium arch and klieg lights.

At first, the action appeared to be sticking to a predictable script with Vekic losing her opening service game and her confidence struggling in the face of Konta’s rhythmic, baseline power game. The first set dashed by 6-2.

Runner-up Johanna Konta
The second set appeared to be heading the same way when Vekic suddenly assumed the role of heroic underdog. Her gunnery and radar at last began functioning with 110mph serves and huge groundstrokes finding the lines. Konta had no immediate answer. Consistency started to desert the Brit and despite some canny improvisation - a series of drop shots on key points left the Croat looking like a giraffe slipping on a banana skin – Vekic’s momentum took her through to a second set tie-break win.

The Brit seemed to recover early in the third set but ultimately it was her and not Vekic’s frustration which told; the latest in a series of poor line decisions – an unhappy feature of this tournament -  leading to a heated haranguing of the umpire.

In a final twist, Vekic surrendered a 3-1 lead with a resurgent Konta breaking serve to first level then head into a 4-3 lead but Vekic kept her composure, broke back and served out at 6-5 bringing the curtain down on her second WTA win to generous applause.

This has been a pleasing week overall benefitting from – at last! - fine weather, a condensed format integrating several titles into seven days, high-profile players, entertaining finals and worthy champions. With attendances increasing, organisers would do well to secure further marquee names next year so as to guarantee the continuing success of Nottingham tennis well into the future.


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