From the Lagos Open to the Australian Open

With the main draws of the Australian Open set to serve off on Monday, we take a look at three women, who have competed and excelled at the Lagos Open in Onikan, formerly known as the Governor’s Cup, and will now take to court on the sport’s grandest stage in Melbourne this week.

Dalila Jakupovic

A decade on from her first appearance at the Lagos Open, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic will play in the first round of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. From seeking glory at an ITF Pro Circuit event in Onikan, Lagos, the 27-year-old will take to court on the grandest stage, to compete at the highest level of the professional ladder. It is however, not the first time Jakupovic will compete at a Grand Slam event. Last year, she played in both the US and French Opens, but fell short in the opening round of both Slam events.

In 2009, Jakupovic, then 18, entered to play at the Lagos Open. It was the first of five consecutive appearances at the Futures event in the coastal city. After a string of semifinal runs in Lagos, her best result would come in 2013, when she breezed through to the final without the loss of a set. She, however, narrowly lost to her countrywoman, Tadeja Majeric 5-7, 5-7 in that final.

More successful in the doubles discipline than the singles’, Jakupovic would go onto to compete at higher levels, winning 3 WTA doubles titles and finishing as runner-up on 5 occasions. At the US Open last year, she partnered with Russia’s Irina Khromacheva to reach the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows. Also, 5 ITF singles titles and 8 doubles title on the ITF pro women’s circuit means the Sloven’s trophy cabinet isn’t for empty show.

Currently ranked 83rd in the world, Jakupovic will take on 27th seed, Camila Giorgi in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday. Whatever the outcome be, there’s no denying her resolve and brilliance. The climb up the professional ladder is slow and hard, but Jakupovic has gone through.

Donna Vekic

22-year-old Donna Vekic is no stranger to Grand Slams. In fact, she’s been competing at the Australian Open as far back as 2013 and has done so every year since then, but she has yet to get past the second round. At Wimbledon last year, she reached the fourth round, which is her best result so far in a major.

In 2011, as a 15-year-old, Vekic was at the Lagos Open. She reached the final of both legs, but lost to Elina Svitolina in the first leg and Tamryn Hendler of Belgium in the second. The Lagos Open had created an avenue for the Croatian to thrive even as fledgling, and she took flight quickly. In 2012, she began representing her country at the Fed Cup. That same year, she competed on the WTA Tour and reached the final of the Tashkent Open in Uzbekistan.

Vekic would go on to win two WTA titles—Malaysian Open in 2014 and the Nottingham Open in 2017. The young Croat has started her 2019 season strongly, reaching the semifinals of the Brisbane International last week. That saw her hit a career-high ranking of 29th in the world.

She would surely now seek to build on that momentum when she takes to court against Kristina Mladenovic at Melbourne Park on Monday.

Elina Svitolina

The biggest of them all, perhaps. Elina Svitolina went from being a rising star, strutting her stuff at the Lagos Open in 2011, to becoming a global phenomenon.

Svitolina’s journey to stardom has been remarkable. She won the Lagos Open (defeating Donna Vekic in the first leg) in 2011, and two years later, clinched her first WTA title at the Baku Cup still as a teenager. The years that followed were successful for the Ukrainian.

She reached a career high of No.3 in the world in 2017 after she made the fourth round at the US Open in 2017. Earlier in that year, she went on a 15-match winning streak, the longest winning streak of any player in 2017. After losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round of the Australian Open, she didn’t lose until the fourth round at Indian Wells, winning the Taiwan Open and Dubai Tennis Championships in between.

The biggest win of her career would come in 2018, when she became the first Ukrainian to lift the prestigious WTA Finals title by beating Sloane Stephens in the final in Singapore. In Grand Slam events, her best outings have been quarterfinal finishes at the French Open (2015 & 2017) and the Australian Open last year.

Now ranked 6th in the world, the 24-year-old, who has won 13 WTA titles, could become the world No.1 this month, but she will have to make it to the final of the Australian Open to have a chance at that. She takes on unseeded Swiss, Viktorija Golubic in the first round on Tuesday as she begins her quest for a maiden Grand Slam title. Anything other than a win will be a big surprise.

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