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Resurgent Vekic a genuine contender, says Majoli

  • Alex Sharp

For Donna Vekic – as well as those who know her best – the Croatian is well and truly a contender at Melbourne Park this fortnight.

The 26-year-old has bounced back from 2021 knee surgery and fluctuating form to book her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in four years.

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On Monday, Vekic found the answers 6-2 1-6 6-3 to dismiss teenage sensation Linda Fruhvirtova to clinch that maiden Australian Open quarterfinal ticket.

Former world No.4 Iva Majoli was courtside for her fellow Croatian's most recent triumph.

"Very impressive, she's been looking very confident since she arrived to Australia," Majoli, who was captain for Vekic earlier this month at United Cup, told

"United Cup was great, she got to play a few matches, played Kooyong and she played Linda in an exhibition, so she knew what to expect there.

"She had a good off-season, came to Australia very sharp and very focused and that is being shown in her matches."

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Vekic's resurgence will be given a thorough examination in the last eight on Wednesday, where she meets fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka. Saying that, Vekic can feed off a 5-1 favourable head-to-head record in their six encounters.

In the last two meetings between the pair, Vekic prevailed 7-6(3) in the decider at the Tokyo Olympics, while last October she chalked up a 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1 victory on the San Diego scoreboard at the quarterfinal stage.

In her 11th main draw appearance in Melbourne, Vekic broke new ground on Monday (Getty Images)

"I've been watching a lot of tennis. Somehow I didn't manage to catch her playing," said Vekic, who has won all six matches in 2023, of Sabalenka.

"I've read, of course, on Twitter that she's playing maybe the best tennis on the women's side this Australian Open.

"I have a great head-to-head with her. All of our matches have been really tough, so I'm sure next one will be, as well."

For 1997 Roland-Garros champion Majoli, it's a must-watch match, and she's excited for her countrywoman's prospects.

"She's in great form, playing very well," Majoli said of Sabalenka.

"But Donna has beaten her before. I was with her at the Tokyo Olympics, that was a tough period for Donna coming back from surgery and injuries, but she beat her. That should give her a lot of belief."

"Donna has one of the biggest serves on the tour. So when that is working well, when she steps inside the court controlling the game, she's very hard to beat. That's what she proved towards the end of last year in San Diego.

"Mentally, coming into a match like this, it means a lot when you have beaten them the last couple of times. Maybe it's a little bit of an advantage for Donna, but it's a quarterfinal of a Slam and Sabalenka is very experienced. I'm really looking forward to this one."

Recalling San Diego, Vekic capped her resurgence with runner-up silverware Stateside, taking down top-10 duo Maria Sakkari and Sabalenka along the way before falling to world No.1 Iga Swiatek 6-3 3-6 6-0 in the final.

The strong showing spurred Vekic on, erasing previous thoughts of retirement. It's quite the transformation to then target a major move in Melbourne.

"Hmm, what changed? San Diego was really important week for me, beating all those top players, ranking-wise. It was a huge confidence boost. Gave me a lot of belief," stated the world No.64, back after dropping out of the top 100 in 2021.

"I think really honestly that week I saw that I can do it. If I can do it there, why not here? If it doesn't happen for me here, I really believe that in the next couple of years, why not?"

Majoli echoes that sentiment.

"She's looking very good, very positive. I think it's the first time she feels she can go all the way. She should feel confident," added the former world No.4.

"You have to focus, take it match by match, step by step because of the strength and depth in women's tennis. It's going to be a tough match.  All the girls feel that the draw is open and that they have a good opportunity."

It's not just about Melbourne for Majoli, who is looking to the bigger picture for Vekic.

"She's matured. I've known Donna since she was a kid and I've never seen her so eager to do well, so focused. It's been a big change in her mentality," stated the Croatian.

"It's a great start to the season for Donna, but I think it's also going to be a great season. I really feel this could be her growing, stepping up to the top of the game."