Grass at last! Hantuchova wins Birmingham title but Vekic is one-to-watch

Will this sixth career title mark a turnaround in 2013? 

It was one of many glaring omissions from a career that has promised so much and delivered precious little.  That may sound unfair but ask any pundit, fan or armchair critic alike (well maybe don’t bother with the latter) for a perennial underachiever in the women’s game and Daniela Hantuchova’s name will be in the mix.

I’ll avoid a ‘career overview’ piece for now, that can come after the not-too-distant retirement announcement. Instead i’ll simply celebrate the Slovak’s first title on the green stuff. That such an achievement should be reached at the ripe old age of 30, for someone who in many ways is a grass-court specialist only proves that hers is a career full of ‘what could have beens’.

The Aegon Classic – or as I fondly remember it, the DFS Classic, in Birmingham is second only to Eastbourne in the women’s grass court circuit and has been captured by many illustrious figures (Sharapova, Lisicki), and some not so (Rybarikova).

Enduring a truly torrid year so far with barely a couple of consecutive wins to her name and facing a certain Laura Robson in the second round, Hantuchova’s chances were hardly great. Yet Robson would prove to be the easiest opponent of the week – herself somewhat wayward at the moment after the highs of the last twelve months.

After that straight sets victory it was business as usual for the leggy-one, with three-set battles and numerous flirtations with defeat against players far more in-form.

Kristina Mladenovic, Francesca Schiavone (a particular highlight) and American qualifier Alison Riske – who always does well here were all dispatched in gutsy displays with which Daniela is simply not associated.

The exciting Donna Vekic who herself proved a seed-killer at Edgbaston gave it her all in the final but after succombing slightly to the strains of grass-court play and her opponent’s unexpected consistency fell in two tight sights 7-6, 6-4. Hantuchova may have triumphed, but the sixteen-year old Croat is the one to watch for the future.

Refreshing then, and certainly amends the sorry attempt at the defence of her title in Pattaya in February, but with a ranking still languishing in the lower depths of the top 50, I’ll keep my hopes low for a decent run at Wimbles for this frustrating enigma.


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