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Jan 17 2013

Donna's Home Away From Home

by Barry Flatman

In the first of a new series, Sunday Times Tennis Correspondent Barry Flatman writes about Virgin Active Northwood member and rising star Donna Vekic, who looks to have a bright future after making waves down under in this year's Australian Open.

By Barry Flatman,
Sunday Times Tennis Correspondent

Snow was falling gently on the courts at Virgin Active’s Northwood Riverside Club but 12,000 miles away the sun was blazing down on the Australian Open at Melbourne Park and Donna Vekic, a member of the JTC squad based at the Classic Club in the leafy suburbs of North-West London, served notice of intent to the rest of the women’s tennis circuit.

The 16 year-old has been a regular at Northwood since the summer and previously based at Chiswick under the coaching tutelage of Tim Henman’s former mentor David Felgate, was the youngest player to merit a place in the main 128-strong women’s singles draw at 2013’s first Grand Slam tournament.

And Donna did not disappoint by taking her opportunity in a Grand Slam debut with a hugely impressive 6-1,6-2 score line over the Czech Republic’s higher ranked and vastly more experienced Andrea Hlavackova.

Next round things got even tougher in the shape of former world no.1 Caroline Wozniacki who realised she was under threat against the youngster and was forced to play her very best tennis to win 6-1,6-4. But the famed Dane with the even more celebrated golfing boyfriend rated the opposition shown to her by Donna, saying: “I believe that we're going to see a lot of her in the future.”

Virgin Active member Donna Vekic in action at the Australian Open

The remainder of 2013 looks to be an exciting time for Donna who is booked to contest the other three Grand Slam events; the French Open in Paris, Wimbledon and New York’s US Open. And Wozniacki thinks big things await the girl from Croatia. “She's a very tall girl and she's young,” said the 22 year-old currently ranked the world’s tenth best player. “She's going to improve a lot over the next few years still. I definitely saw a lot of potential in her. I knew that I had to put the pressure on her from the beginning.”

After the glamour and sunshine of Melbourne, Donna was heading back for more hard work at Northwood, where she lives just up the road from the Virgin Active Riverside.

“My hometown is place called Osijek, which is in the east of Croatia quite near to the Serbian border but there are not many facilities there,” says Vekic in excellent English that underlines her willingness to think globally. “So I accept the fact that if I am to become successful at tennis then I need to live somewhere else and after so long in London I feel very comfortable here.

“First I was based at the Virgin Active Chiswick Riverside Health & Racquets Club and now I love it in Northwood. I share a house with other young tennis players in the squad and we have a great time.”