Donna Vekić’s father welcomed the end of the Courmayeur final in Italy with many emotions. It was Donna’s first title in four years, the first since knee surgery. Their long-lasting hug after Donna’s triumph against Dane Clare Tauson said it all, reports Sportske Novosti.
“I won’t even hide it. At that moment, I wanted not to show until the end even though it was difficult because I am a part of Donna’s entire career, especially the last two years, and I know how much effort, will, and desire Donna has, how much work has been invested in all this, how many difficulties with injuries she had this year. I know how much this tournament meant to her, which will surely give her extra confidence for further work, and that is the biggest gain for me,” said father Igor Vekić at the beginning of November.
The 2021 season was more demanding for Donna than before, and she was forced to take a break for three and a half months. With the triumph in Courmayeur, she jumped from 97th to 67th place in the WTA ranking, and for a short-term goal, she wants to be among the 20 best tennis players in the world.
“Donna’s career has been long; at the age of 16, she entered the top 100 in the world, and after so many years in professional sports, it was hard to expect that such an injury would not happen. This jump in the WTA ranking is just a step on the road where Donna wants to be. She doesn’t just want to enter the top 20; her goals are much bigger,” Igor Vekić assures.
The coronavirus pandemic in the spring prevented a humanitarian tennis spectacle in Osijek organized by the Vekić family; a tournament called the Premier Tennis Show, the first edition held last year when the pandemic stopped tennis for several months around the world. The pandemic postponed the tournament but did not interfere with plans.
At the foot of the School of Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Osijek, the first public tennis court in Croatia was built, completely free to use. Its construction was financed partly through a humanitarian auction in which the items were donated by Roger Federer, Luka Modrić, Janica Kostelić, Sandra Perković, Goran Ivanišević, and Donna Vekić.
Had Donna had such an opportunity in her tennis beginnings, it would indeed have meant a lot to her.
“This was exactly one of the reasons why we want to transfer Donna’s result and success at the global level to the local level, to Osijek, where she started her tennis career. We wanted to provide the best possible infrastructure so that children can fall in love with tennis and so that children can play tennis and sports, and later show interest and talent for something more from time to time. Still, the goal is to work on popularizing it for children to get involved in tennis as much as possible,” explains Igor Vekić.
Five months later, a public tennis court, the construction of which cost 450,000 kuna with Wimbledon-like grass from England, fulfilled expectations.
“The court has completely fulfilled its purpose; it is full, reserved. It is used by children, the youth, sometimes older players. What fills our hearts is that the court is completely free to use, and everyone can try it,” says Vekić.
“The court operates from 8 am to 10 pm. The booking procedure is very simple, and you can book on the website premiertennisosijek.com up to five days in advance. You get a code that enters the system when entering the court and under controlled conditions uses certainly the most beautiful and best public tennis court in Europe,” Igor Vekić adds.
Children from the Klasje Osijek Community Service Center, who receive free tennis education, are regularly on the courts.
“Through the humanitarian action, one of the goals was to build a public tennis court, but not only to stop there but to provide education to children, residents of the Klasje Home and now for a few months I can say that this cooperation is going very well. Davor Grgić from Donna’s tennis team conducts education with his coaches, and the children are satisfied, everything is going as we imagined for these children to one day be able to use the court on their own,” explains Igor Vekić
The next steps in popularizing tennis in Osijek are self-imposed, providing free tennis education to all interested parties.
“The next step, given this interest, is to provide everyone else with completely free education in terms of improving their game, working on the technique at the agreed time in two categories, children up to 14 years, but also adult recreationists who want to improve their game – we will make it possible,” says Vekić.
They will also have a place to show their tennis skills because the first public tennis court in Croatia will not remain the last. The plan is to make a total of four in Osijek, with four different courts.
“We have partners in the city and county. For example, at the tennis court opening, the prefect and the mayor said what we wanted to hear: they would be our partners in further developing public tennis courts in Osijek. Our goal is to make four courts in different parts of the city with one special feature. Namely, we want to make four courts with all four Grand Slam surfaces,” reveals Vekić.
Two years ago, the idea of a tennis academy was promoted.
“We are completely ready. We have the “know-how,” and in this case, we are waiting for the moves of investors who will get involved with our program, our knowledge, and professional staff so that we can work on education and popularizing tennis,” said Vekić.
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