Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Ana Konjuh continues climb she started at Stanley Street

Ana Konjuh is back in her second home - and looking forward to further repaying the loyalty shown by the ASB Classic.

Konjuh, who will feature in today's semifinals at Stanley Street, has a special relationship with the Auckland event. Tournament director Karl Budge took a chance on her in 2014, when she was a 16-year-old ranked 259 in the world.

He signed the former junior world No 1 to a three year deal and Konjuh instantly delivered in her first match at WTA level.

The Croatian provided one of the highlights of that tournament, knocking out top seed and world No 15 Roberta Vinci in a three set thriller.

"It was a great experience for me," said Konjuh. "I was young, I didn't know what to expect, with the stadium, the atmosphere. There was a lot of Croatians in the crowd, I was really excited, gave it my all and it was enough."

Konjuh has continued on an upward trajectory. She was the youngest player in the top 200 in 2015, and broke into the top 50 last year, after a memorable run at the US Open. She was the first Croatian female to reach the last eight at a grand slam since 2004, and the first women from her country to advance that far in New York.

"It was amazing," said Konjuh. "The first time in a night session and in front of a huge crowd. I had a few injuries at the start of the year, so it was good timing as well, to do that at a slam."

Konjuh is part of a new breed on the WTA tour, one of six teenagers in the top 100. The likes of Konjuh, fellow ASB Classic semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko , American Catherine Bellis and Naomi Osaka represent a promising new wave.

"I'm getting more experience each year," said Konjuh. "There [are] a few [1997] players in the top 50 already, so I think the next generation is coming and hopefully we are going to become part of the tour."

Konjuh's passage to the last four in Auckland was much easier than expected, as Osaka quit their quarter-final after just 20 minutes with a left wrist complaint. Konjuh had started well, with some blazing forehands from the back of the court, and led 3-0 when the Japanese player called for the doctor.

"I didn't know she was injured, so I was looking forward to the match," said Konjuh. "I was really fired up. It's the first tournament of the year, so I don't think anyone is in good form, but we are all fighting for shape."

Konjuh won't lack motivation today, aiming to reach the second WTA final of her career, after her victory at Nottingham in 2015, when she was the youngest title winner on tour in almost a decade.

- NZ Herald

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