The British No 1 Johanna Konta missed out on the chance of winning a first tournament on home soil on Sunday, as she lost the final of the Nottingham Open to the unseeded Donna Vekic.
Konta, ranked eighth in the world and the top seed at the WTA International event, was the overwhelming favourite to beat 20-year-old Vekic, who was ranked outside the top 100 as recently last season.
The Brit made a superb start to her first career final on grass and led 5-4 in the final set, but was broken late on in a pivotal game as Vekic sealed a 2-6 7-6(3) 7-5 victory in just under two and a half hours.
Konta, usually so calm and collected on court, grew increasingly frustrated throughout the match as a series of debatable line decisions went against her, but was nevertheless magnanimous in defeat.
“All credit to Donna, she was continuously able to raise her level all throughout that match,” she said on Eurosport after receiving her runner-up prize.
“I was not able to stay with her. Full credit to her for playing incredibly well.
“But I’m very happy that I got to play five great matches on the grass. For Donna and I, heading into Wimbledon, we just want to play on the surface as much as possible.”
Her defeat means the long wait for a British player to win a WTA singles title on home soil continues. Sue Barker was the last, in 1981, while the last British player to win a singles title at home on grass was Virginia Wade in Eastbourne in 1975.
Konta started the match in dominant fashion, breaking Vekic in her very first service game and taking the first set in a breezy forty minutes.
However the Croatian improved in the second set, breaking Konta early to leave 3-1. The Brit managed to draw level but again Vekic got her nose in front, holding set points on Konta’s serve at 5-4 and 6-5, before drawing the scoreboard level in a tie-break.
Vekic maintained her momentum into the decider, breaking Konta’s serve in the opening game. The top seed then rallied, winning three games in a row to move within touching distance of the trophy, only to collapse.
Faced with the pressure of serving to stay in the match, Vekic coolly held to love, before breaking Konta and again holding serve to win her first WTA title in over three years. It was also the youngster’s first win over a top-ten player since April 2014.
“It’s pretty amazing and I’m really, really happy,” Vekic said after her win.
“Jo played amazing and she’s having an amazing year, but I was just trying to focus on myself, serve and good as I can and be aggressive, which is not easy against her.
Wimbledon is my favourite tournament of the year and I’m very happy that I can go into that winning a couple of matches, but first, next week is Birmingham.”
Both players will now travel to Birmingham for the Aegon Classic, with No.4 seed Konta facing Lesia Tsurenko in the first round, with Vekic due to play Alison Riske.