On Sunday, Donna Vekic became the youngest player to win a WTA title in eight years when she defeated No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (4) at the Malaysian Open. The 17-year-old Croatian climbed 30 spots, to No. 65, after breaking through in her third career final and recording her first victory over a top-20 player.
Vekic -- who works with David Felgate, Tim Henman's former coach -- has been a name to follow over the last two years. In her first WTA main-draw appearance, the 2012 Tashkent Open, she made the final as a qualifier. Last season, Vekic reached a career high of No. 62 after advancing to the final of the Aegon Classic, and she finished the year as the youngest player in the top 200.
Vekic has gotten progressively better this year: After first-round losses in her first four events, she reached the second round at the BNP Paribas Open, the third round at the Sony Open as a qualifier (she beat two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round), the second round at the Monterrey Open and won the title in Kuala Lumpur.
After spending years with a training base in London, Vekic has joined the growing list of players who call Monte Carlo home. She trained there during the offseason and has gotten fitter and stronger under a new trainer, Josko Silic. That fitness paid off last week, when she won four of her five matches in three sets after losing the first set, including the two-hour, 51-minute final.
In an interview with SI.com last month, Vekic talked about her early success, how she copes with losing, what drives her crazy and more.
SI.com: When did you realize that you were good at tennis?
Vekic: Maybe when I won the Croatian nationals when I was 10 years old. That was when I had just started to get into it seriously. But I'm still very young. I've never really had that special moment yet. I'm just really working at everything I do and I want to be the best at it.
SI.com: You've been competing on the pro tour since 2012 and have had some good success for your age. At what point did you feel like you belonged on this level?
Vekic: I still don't feel like I belong. I still have lots to improve on and to prove to myself that I'm ready to beat the best players. It's when you beat the top 10 that you really feel like you belong. But I enjoy being on tour and being out with the big players and the big names. It's very challenging.
SI.com: Is it hard for you to balance your ambition with a need to be patient?
Vekic: It's definitely the battle I have with my coach every day. I want everything now and he's like, No, you're not good enough yet. You're not good enough to beat these top players. Because I had such success early in my career, it's been tough to deal with the tough losses I've had in the last few months [before Indian Wells]. It's all part of the tennis life and part of the ups and downs. But once you've been down a little bit, when you get that win it feels especially good.
SI.com: What match do you wish you could replay?
Vekic: I wish I could do over the final of the 2012 Tashkent Open [a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Irina-Camelia Begu]. I was just so nervous. I wanted to win so badly and I couldn't enjoy it. Come on, it was my first final.
SI.com: Do you think the experience of that first final helped you when you played for the Birmingham title against Daniela Hantuchova in 2013?
Vekic: For sure. I just had a great time on court. I didn't feel the need to win because she was obviously the favorite so I could just enjoy it.
SI.com: What's your favorite tour stop?
Vekic: So far, it's Indian Wells. The weather has been so amazing and the view of the mountains when you play is beautiful.
SI.com: You don't find it boring? There's not very much to do at Indian Wells compared to Miami, for example.
Vekic: I like the craziness of Miami because I'm a little bit of a crazy person. But at Indian Wells it's about tennis and there's nothing really on the side. It's nice.
SI.com: What song on your iPod do you listen to the most?
Vekic: No Angels by Bastille feat. Ella.
SI.com: What are your pet peeves?
Vekic: When someone walks and shuffles their feet. The noise just drives me crazy.
SI.com: If that's your pet peeve, I think you'll be OK in life.
Vekic: Also when people walk really slowly in front of me and I'm in a rush.
SI.com: If you could take a selfie with anyone, who would it be?
Vekic: Jennifer Lawrence.
SI.com: What's your post-loss ritual?
Vekic: Indulge in everything you see. First thing I see, it's mine. I love chocolate. And in the locker rooms I often have chocolate milk because it's really good for replenishing your body after a match or practice. But after a loss I'm not drinking it for health reasons.
SI.com: What's the last thing you Googled?
Vekic: "Where is Morton's?" We just went there for dinner.
SI.com: Who's the best dresser on tour?
Vekic: Ana Ivanovic. We have a few similar pieces of clothing so sometimes I'll be like, Oh, I have that! And she's like, Oh, I have that too!
SI.com: Have you ever showed up to a player party wearing the same thing?
Vekic. Not yet. But it will happen.
SI.com: Whom do you normally have dinner with at tournaments? Any players?
Vekic: I like to have dinner with my team. With other players, we chill in the change room and see each other enough.
SI.com: What is your dream car?
Vekic: Audi R8.
SI.com: Are you going to be treating yourself with that anytime soon?
Vekic: I have to get my driver's license first.
SI.com: Good point, you have to crawl before you walk. When you check into a hotel room, what's the first thing you do?
Vekic: I check what the bed is like. I like lots of pillows on the bed.
SI.com: This is a controversial question for players: Do you sleep with the air conditioning on or off?
Vekic: Usually off. I don't want to be frozen during the night.
SI.com: What's your pump-up song?
Vekic: We Own It by 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa.
SI.com: Would that be your U.S. Open walk-out song?
Vekic: No, for that I'd use Dark Horse by Katy Perry.
SI.com: Do you prefer television shows or movies?
Vekic: You just reminded me that I have to watch the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars. I watch both, but I get bored a little bit watching movies sometimes. It's really hard to keep me entertained.
SI.com: Favorite shows?
Vekic: Pretty Little Liars. I was obsessed with Gossip Girl. And CSI.
SI.com: What would be your last meal on earth?
Vekic: Filet mignon and hashbrowned potatoes.
SI.com: What are the three things you would take with you to a desert island? Vekic: My phone, a friend and sun cream.