Donna Vekic, the 16-year-old whose grass court promise has been likened to that of Maria Sharapova at the same age, upset the seedings a third time to reach the Birmingham WTA final on Saturday.
Vekic did that with a staccato, tortuous, frequently rain-interrupted 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 6-3 win over the former champion, Magdalena Rybarikova, to move into the final of the Wimbledon warm-up event.
It is already the second final of Vekic’s brief career, and Saturday’s progress has taken her one step further than Sharapova on her debut in Birmingham 10 years ago.
The Russian went on to win the Birminghan title and Wimbledon the following year, and the evidence of Vekic’s win over the Slovakian, as well as over Sorana Cirstea of Romania and Urszula Radwanska of Poland earlier in the week, is that she too is already a force on grass.
Once again the basis of her victory was a liking for striking the ball boldly and early and taking advantage of the speed of the surface, often setting it up with a forcing first serve.
Asked if she knew about comparisons being made with the young Sharapova, the teenager wisely set them aside.
“That’s very nice but she has her career and I have my career,” she said.
To equal Sharapova’s achievement of winning Wimbledon at 17, however, Vekic would have to win the Grand Slam this year as her birthday is during the famous fortnight.
“It’s nice to know, but I don’t think it’s possible at the moment,” she said. when asked about doing that.
“But I am playing really well at the moment so hopefully I can get through a few rounds.”
However when asked whether she could handle the glamour side of the tennis industry as Sharapova has, the golden-haired girl was much more certain. “Yes,” she said immediately. “I think I can do that.”
There were though moments when doubts arose whether Vekic could handle the combined threat of Rybarikova and the damp, blustery conditions.
She threw her racket in frustration when she dropped serve to go 4-5 down in the first set, and looked increasingly concerned as the games ran steadily away from her in the second set.
However she was helped, she claimed, by the rain delay just before the end of it.
“I wasn’t playing very well and it gave me a chance to spend some time with my coach (David Felgate)” she said.
“I wasn’t serving very well and so after that I tried to get a higher percentage (of first serves) in. It helped.
“I was also nervous, but now I am very excited about reaching the final. I don’t want to think about it too much though now.”
Her opponent will be the winner of Daniela Hantuchova, the former world number five from Slovakia, and Alison Riske, the American, who reached the semi-final for the second time earlier in the day.
Riske did that by upsetting Sabine Lisicki, another former champion, by a 7-6 (7/2), 2-6, 6-4.
In the process the former Wimbledon semi-finalist’s Grand Slam build-up in the process came to grief after a prolonged controversy in the final game.
The German claimed that Riske had broken the rules by yelling “come on” before the ball had died from a fierce drive volley struck close to the net.
“You are not supposed to do that, it’s against the rules,” said Lisicki, who reckoned she could have reached the ball, and that according to the hindrance rule she should have been awarded the point.
But after losing an argument with the umpire, she lost a contretemps with the tournament referee as well — and only four points later lost the match.