Wimbledon | Vekic dims Sun as Paolini nukes Navarro

A few weeks ago, just before the French Open, Donna Vekic nearly quit tennis, and now she is in the Wimbledon semi-finals, where she will face Jasmine Paolini on Thursday for a place in the Championship final.

It's unbelievable, it's amazing to get the win in this special court. I'm so happy to be in the semi-final. I don't know what to say in this moment. It's a dream to be here in this position… I was watching finals when I was a kid, on this court. I have to say today I played a really good match, she's a really tough opponent, I lost [to] her three times in the last year, so it was tough. Jasmine Paolini

In fact, Vekic had thought about quitting before, especially when she was struggling to get back to her best after knee surgery in 2021.

After an early loss at the Berlin Open, where she had reached the final in 2023, the Croatian slumped down the rankings and was close to leaving the Top 50, but a run to the final in Bad Homburg sent her back into the Top 40, and now she is set to return to the Top 20 after a dream Wimbledon run.

“Those couple of years [2021 and 2022] were very tough,” said Vekic. “I didn’t think I was ever going to come back to the level that I even had last year.

“So this now, reaching my best result ever at a Slam, I’m really proud of myself, of the work that I’ve done, of the work that my team has done.”

In Tuesday’s first quarter-final, the 28-year-old Croatian made the 43rd appearance at a major tournament in her 12-year professional career, and outlasted qualifier Lulu Sun from New Zealand, 5-7 6-4 6-1, after a 2 hour 8 minute contest under the closed roof of No 1 Court, as rain once again battered the grounds outside.

Vekic, who won her first WTA title a decade ago at the age of 17, is a skilled grass court player, and has reached 5 singles finals on the surface, including a title at Nottingham in 2017, while, this season, she is now 10-3 on grass, including a final 2 weeks ago in Bad Homburg.

Her latest performance also matches a Wimbledon best for her country, as Vekic became the second woman representing Croatia to make the semi-finals after Mirjana Lucic in 1999, 25 years ago.

Sun, who made a break-through run from qualifying to her first Grand Slam quarter-final, captured the first break of the day to lead 6-5, and a winning drop-shot gave the Kiwi a one-set lead, having saved all 4 break points that she faced during the opener.

In the second set, Vekic used deep returns to carve out a 5-3 lead, and held a set point, and although Sun pulled it back on serve, the Croatian converted on her next chance in the following game, levelling up at a set apiece with a drop-shot winner of her own, after firing 12 winners to her opponent’s 8.

It was a quarter-final that deserved a third set in which Sun’s long haul through the qualifying rounds finally caught up with her, physically.

“I felt, like, I was dying out there in the first two sets,” a shattered Vekic admitted. “We both were, I think.”

Qualifier Lulu Sun took the first set but was then outrun by Donna Vekic in Tuesday's quarter-final

© Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

Finding more powerful serves and groundstrokes in the decider, Vekic built up a head of steam as she won the first 13 points of the set on her way to move ahead 5-0, when Sun got herself on the board with a love hold for 5-1.

Vekic, however, would not be denied, and she crushed a crosscourt forehand to line up triple match point, but she only needed one of them after a Sun backhand flew long.

During a commanding third set, Vekic had won all 9 points when she got her first serve into play, went 5-for-5 at the net, and converted both of her break points.

“Before the match, I was relaxed,” Vekic said. “The only moment where I was a bit more stressed out during the match was when I saw how well [Sun is] playing. It’s not that I didn’t expect her to play well. I knew she was going to come out swinging.

“I could not find the depth in my shots. I wasn’t executing my shots as well as I wanted to. That’s why I was, I don’t know, a little bit more stressed and tense. But at the end I managed to find my game.”

Vekic attributes her resurgence to the work she has done with 22-time major champion Pam Shriver, whom she first met at the San Diego Open in October 2022, when the Croatian was attempting to qualify for the main draw.

She was still making her way back up the rankings after the knee surgery, and she started working with Shriver, which resulted in a tear to her 10th career final, beating Maria Sakkari, Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka, and Danielle Collins on the way, and taking Iga Swiatek to 3 sets before she stopped her in the title match.

Vekic’s day-to-day coach is long-term ally Nikola Horvat, who is also with her at Wimbledon this fortnight, but it is Shriver, a 3-time Wimbledon singles semi-finalist and 5-time doubles champion, who has been the inspiration the Croatian needed to thrive.

She has guided her through some big results, including a run to her 2nd Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open in 2022, where eventual champion Sabalenka beat her.

That was quickly followed by her 4th and, to date most recent, WTA victory in Monterrey before reaching one of the biggest finals of her career in Berlin last summer.

Although 2024 has proven more of a struggle, Vekic has turned her season around on the grass and now sits No 12 in the WTA Live Race ahead of her semi-final.

Jasmine Paolini blitzed past Emma Navarro into the Wimbledon semi-finals on Centre Court

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

The second quarter-final of the day saw World No 7 Paolini blitz Emma Navarro, the 19th-seeded American, 6-2 6-1, in just 58 minutes on Centre Court, becoming the first Italian woman to make the Wimbledon semi-finals.

The 28-year-old’ surpassed her compatriots Camila Giorgi (2018), Francesca Schiavone (2009), Silvia Farina Elia (2003) and Laura Golarsa (1989), who had all reached the quarter-finals at the grass court Grand Slam in the Open era, but progressed no further.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s amazing to get the win in this special court. I’m so happy to be in the semi-final,” Paolini said with a wide grin after the match. “I don’t know what to say in this moment.

“It’s a dream to be here in this position… I was watching finals when I was a kid, on this court. I have to say today I played a really good match, she’s a really tough opponent, I lost [to] her three times in the last year, so it was tough.”

Navarro drew first blood in the 3rd game with a forehand rocket, brimming with confidence and calmly attacking the Italian’s serve to score the early break, but Paolini responded immediately, and the French Open runner-up soared to 11 of the next 12 games from 1-2 down, ending the match with 19 winners, more than triple the American’s 6, as both struck 12 unforced errors.

Paolini also won 16 of 17 points when she came to net, and many came on crucial moments.

The diminutive 28-year old Italian only faced the one break point in the first set, and saved all 3 she was presented with in the second, while she broke Navarro’s serve 5 times in total.

Navarro, who had never lost in 3 previous meetings with Paolini, gave herself a fighting chance with 2 break points in the 3rd game of the second set, but was unable to convert either, and the 23-year-old’s hopes of reaching a first Grand Slam semi-final faded further as the Italian took a 5-1 lead, having staved off another come-back attempt.

Although she wobbled slightly as she looked to land the knock-out blow on serve, a wayward shot from Navarro sent Paolini through to a meeting with Vekic.

“In the semi-finals you have to play tough opponents, and she’s playing amazing,” Paolini said. “I hope to enjoy the next match, to give 100% and I’m going to fight on every ball. I’m just so grateful to be here another time, in front of you guys.”

Emma Navarro had no answers to Jasmine Paolini's grass court prowess on Tuesday

© Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images

Paolini is riding high on confidence from a trip to her maiden major final in Paris.

“She was a totally different player today than when I played her in the past,” Navarro said later. “I felt, like, in our previous meetings, I was the aggressor, I was the one controlling points, getting ahead at the beginning of points, then controlling the rallies, too. I felt just the opposite of that today.”

Navarro came into the quarter-finals riding a wave of her own after taking out former Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, but she was cooled off by the hotter player.

“I felt, like, she was just on top of me from the very first point,” she said. “I struggled to push back against that. I feel like she served really well, too.

“When I played her before, I felt, like, return games were opportunities where I could get ahead and play aggressively. I didn’t feel that at all today. Same when I was serving, just felt a lot of pressure from her.”

Paolini had never won a match on grass prior to Wimbledon to this year, and now looks to be a natural on the surface.

“Maybe I didn’t realise before, but my coach was telling me that I could play well [on grass],” she said. “I wasn’t believing too much. I think also the last two years I played against Kvitova first round, so it was tough to believe it.”

She gives special thanks to Kvitova, who sat this Wimbledon out while giving birth to a baby boy.

“I felt great also in Eastbourne. I was hitting well the ball on this surface, moving well,” Paolini added. “I was repeating to myself, ‘Okay, it’s nice to play on grass. You can play well’.

“I remember the first days in Eastbourne wasn’t easy. You have to adapt. Was coming from clay, as every player. Match by match I was feeling good. Yeah, I’m enjoying grass now.

“Yeah, I didn’t expect to do a semi-finals here at all…”

Having never won back-to-back matches in 16 prior Grand Slam appearances, Paolini is now 14-2, and counting, at majors in 2024.

Paolini owns a 2-1 head-to-head record against Vekic, although they have only played on hard courts.



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