Vito Tonejc’s incredible journey from lucky loser to lifetime winner

TULSA, Oklahoma. – News from Vito Tonejc Wednesday’s loss at the ITA All-American Championships is almost a footnote in the larger story of how the Zagreb, Croatia junior went from a Lucky Loser to a lifetime winner.

Lucky Loser is a fascinating concept in high level tennis tournaments where several players eliminated in the last qualifying round are randomly selected for a second chance and placed in the main draw.

Tonejc got such a golden ticket, except that he and his trainer Matt Brothers discovered Lucky Loser’s berth while waiting for their Tuesday night flight to take off to Dallas, where they would board a connecting flight to Chicago.

What unfolds next is an incredible journey back to Tulsa, at times dramatized by a text conversation between the brothers and a member of the Athletics staff starting at 6:36 PM.

The good news text on Tonejc’s reprieve was first greeted with an expression of extreme regret from the coach, followed by:

“We are on a plane waiting to leave Tulsa.”

A minute later, another text:

“Oh wait… Maybe it works or it works somehow.” “

At this point, Brothers are probably asking a flight attendant to get off the plane literally at the last minute.

Following text:

“We couldn’t get our gear off the plane… stopover in Dallas.” “

Brothers was asked to provide an update.

“Don’t think it will work.”

The news was disheartening, but Brothers wasn’t quite ready to give up. About an hour later, Brothers’ temper made a full 180.

“We are doing it,” he wrote. “Pull bags, go back up there… crazy.”

The following text is even better.

“I have a flight! Back to Tulsa in 45 minutes! It’s crazy.”

The coach’s final text arrived at 10:39 p.m.

“We have just returned to our hotel.”

It’s hardly surprising that Brothers are willing to hire a car and drive four hours in the middle of the night so Tonejc can play one more game with his teammates. Tripp tuff, Luuk Wassenaar and Marino Jakic provide support after everyone has been eliminated from the tournament.

Every parent who reads this story knows exactly how Coach Blue Demon felt. There is nothing you wouldn’t do to help your child succeed in life.

Brothers, who has daughter Grace and son Charlie, is a prime example of how the people of DePaul really care about each other. “Take Care DePaul” isn’t just a clever ad campaign or a buzzword.

What happened late last night is real life. This is just the way it is in Sheffield and Belden.

Grateful for all the extra efforts on his behalf, Tonejc gave his best shot at Case Tennis Center in Tulsa. After losing the first set 6-4, Tonejc rallied to the game with a result of 7-6 (3) in the second set.

But Conner Thomson of South Carolina, ranked No.16 in the nation, earned a 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-2 victory.

For Vito, the details of his last game at Tulsa will eventually fade over time.

What will remain for the rest of his life is the memory of a coach who was ready to move heaven and earth by refusing to disappoint him.

Take care of yourself — DePaul.

ITA All-American Championships
October 6, 2021
Tulsa, Okla.

Connor Thomson (South Carolina) defeats. Vito Tonejc (DePaul) 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-2

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