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By Richard Pagliaro | @TennisNow | Tuesday, July 9, 2024


“I felt like I was dying out there the first two sets,” Donna Vekic said after ending Lulu Sun's inspired run to reach her first Wimbledon semifinal.

Photo credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty

Wimbledon—Staring into the Sun on Court No. 1, Donna Vekic realized a dream with a convincing closing kick.

Contesting her 43rd Grand Slam, Vekic rolled through a roaring finish ending the inspired run of 123rd-ranked qualifier Lulu Sun 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon.

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Wearing the Wimbledon colors on her fingernail polish, Vekic seized hold of this quarterfinal with both hands racing through 13 consecutive points at the start of the decider to take complete command serving out her biggest career victory at love.

“I don’t even know, honestly, it was a really tough match she played unbelievable,” Vekic told Rishi Persad afterward. “I feel like she really pushed me to my limits and I hope you guys enjoyed it.”

Persistent rain pelted off the retractable roof covering No. 1 Court as the pair traded damaging drives.

After Sun took the opening set, Vekic dug in, drilled her forehand with more venom and kept attacking her shots to spark her comeback.

“I felt like I was dying out there the first two sets,” Vekic said. “I just kept going hoping to have a chance and it came in the end…

“I have a full box of people there and without them I would not be here.”

Twenty-three years after Croatian legend Goran Ivanisevic out-dueled Patrick Rafter 6–3, 3–6, 6–3, 2–6, 9–7 in the famed People’s Monday 2001 men’s final, Croatian Vekic will play French Open finalist Jasmine Paolini for a place in the ladies’ final on Saturday.

Paolini pounded out a 6-2, 6-1 win over 19th-seeded American Emma Navarro in a 58-quarterfinal staged on Centre Court to reach her second straight Grand Slam semifinal.

Paolini believes the serve and forehand will be key to her semifinal showdown vs. Vekic.  

"I think she serves really good and she's fighting every ball," Paolini said of Vekic. "But I'm fighting, too, every ball. No, I mean, I think I'm moving well here. But as I said, today I played a really good forehand. It's working good in this tournament, the forehand. Yeah, I hope it's going to help me with Donna.

"Yeah, she's serving well. It's important also to return well against her I think, to make her run."

Vekic, whose mother, Brankica, is a former hurdler, has scaled every obstacle—defeating Australian Open semifinalist Dayana Yastremska and former Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa and suffering first-set sun burn today. Yet through it all Vekic kept her composure, competed with resilience and showed no trace of self-doubt at closing time.

Vekic’s rise ends Sun’s remarkable run that saw her topple Australian Open finalist and No. 8 seed Zheng Qinwen in the opening round and 2021 US Open champion and home hero Emma Raducanu in the fourth round, played two strong sets but lost her edge in the decider.

"I mean, even on the first day against Zheng Qinwen, I thought that court was huge and the people were loud," Sun said reflecting on her wondrous Wimbledon journey that will propel her to a career-high ranking. "So I was like, Oh, my God, this is such an amazing experience to play on such a big court on your first day.

"I was just, like, super happy to be able to get that experience and play against such a big player, such a great player. But then I played on Centre. It was against Emma. I don't think I could forget that. Definitely not. So I've had really great matches here at Wimbledon."

The branding blared Sun’s mission before she even struck a shot.

“Astonish” emblazoned in bright blue across Sun’s white top is the sponsor logo of a UK-based cleaning company. Sun did exactly that with an astounding run she continued in the opening set today.

During a 10-deuce game, Sun saved a third break point pumping a forehand that hit a brown patch near the baseline and did not come up scooting beneath Vekic’s racquet. That set up Sun slamming a forehand winner to finally seal the hold for 2-2 after a challenging 13-minute game.

The lefty forehand Sun slashes can be a devious shot for opponents as she can hit it with topspin, sidespin or flatten it out. Vekic again pressured in the sixth game, but Sun slammed a forehand crosscourt capping a deuce hold to level after six games.

Contesting her third career major quarterfinal, Vekic was tested to deuce in the seventh game. Casting a glance up at her box at coaches Nick Horvat and Pam Shriver, Vekic answered with an ace and jolting forehand to help edge ahead 5-4 after 46 minutes of play.

Measuring a bold backhand, Vekic banged a two-handed return down the line—nearly over the net post—to go up love-30 in the 10th game.

Sun was smacking her forehand with more vigor. She backed Vekic up and drew the error breaking for 6-5.

Serving for the set, Sun pulled the string on a perfect backhand dropper—that would have impressed drop-shot king Carlos Alcaraz—to seal the opening set.

Both women hit 14 winners in the one-hour opener, but Vekic was 0 for 4 on break point chances, Sun converted one of three break points and that was a crucial difference.

Stepping inside the court more frequently, Vekic was trying to dictate with her own forehand and prevent the left-handed Sun from imposing her forehand.

Depth down the middle helped Vekic create the break in the eighth game of set two.

Denying Sun access to angles, Vekic blasted a backhand return right at the New Zealander handcuffing her opponent to break for 5-3.

World No. 37 Vekic caught a break while serving for the set as Sun soared for a smash but sailed it long. Vekic smiled off the stress and slid a serve winner for set point only to see Sun save it.

Wilting a bit under pressure, Vekic committed a couple of double faults and a netted error as Sun broke back for 4-5.

In her 10th Wimbledon appearance, experience empowered Vekic, who won 13 of 14 first-serve points in the second set and was trying to take the initiative in baseline exchanges.

A recharged Vekic rolled through 13 consecutive points charging out to a 3-0 lead in the decider before a sinking Sun smacked an ace down the T to stall her slide.

The 28-year-old Croatian rocked Sun’s serve again with another fierce forehand breaking for 4-0.

Serving for her maiden major semifinal, Vekic finished a fine, two hour, 8-minute performance at love.

A 2021 knee surgery and a series of injuries, including plantar fascitis, have interrupted Vekic's career.

After today's breakthrough victory, she shared she considered walking away.

"There were a couple of times in my career, I didn't want to play tennis anymore," Vekic said.

As recently as three days before the start of Roland Garros, Vekic said ennui had set in to the point she told coach Nick she wanted to pull out of Paris.

Weeks later she's playing for a place in the Wimbledon final and Vekic is feeling her resilience finally rewarded. 

"I didn't have any energy, any motivation to keep practicing, keep pushing because I felt like the last couple months I've given everything for tennis, and I wasn't getting the results that I kind of expected," Vekic said. "It was a very, very tough moment, but they were all there for me. Like I said, that loss in Paris was so, so painful. But it motivated me again to keep working, to keep pushing.

"It's crazy how in tennis things can turn so fast...Now I'm in the semifinals. I think not just in tennis, in life things can turn pretty fast."


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