Indian Wells 2016: Johanna Konta strides on, but Bencic and Ivanovic fall

Johanna Konta is through to the last 16 at Indian Wells, but Ana Ivanovic and Belinda Bencic crash out

Marianne Bevis

Little more than a year ago, British women’s No1 Johanna Konta was ranked 146 and plugging her way through qualifying. She exited the Australian Open in the first round of qualifying, left Indian Wells in the second round of qualies, and along the way was playing ITF tournaments.

Eventually, she made her way through qualifying at Roland Garros, only to meet Denisa Allertova in the first round: The Czech beat her in a marathon, 7-6 (17), 4-6, 6-2.

But then came the grass season and Konta’s first main-tour wins of the year: the quarters of Nottingham were followed by the quarters at Eastbourne, beating the likes of Ekaterina Makarova and Garbine Muguruza.

She had the misfortune to draw Maria Sharapova in the first round of Wimbledon, but she had found form, confidence and peace of mind with the help of her team and a sports psychologist, so the North American hard courts took her onward and upward.

Two ITF titles back-to-back preluded her Grand Slam breakthrough: three rounds of qualifying and on towards the fourth round of the US Open by way of a gutsy and draining three-setter over the No8 Muguruza.

Come Wuhan, she still had to qualify, but having done that, she beat world No2 Simona Halep to reach the quarters and an encounter with one of her idols, Venus Williams: She lost 7-5 in the third set.

By now, Konta’s serene personality and elegant power were winning fans as well as matches and rankings. She started this year inside the top 50, and began to make even bigger headlines.

Come Melbourne, it was not the first round of qualifications for her, but the semi-finals. This time, she beat Williams, this time she beat Allertova. In the end, it took the eventual champion, Angelique Kerber, to end her run, but Konta is no longer contemplating qualification rounds.

Indeed with a ranking of 26, she is guaranteed a seeding at the big tournaments, including Indian Wells, where she enjoyed a bye in the first round.

Already she had sailed past Madison Brengle, 6-4, 6-0, to score her first win in four over the American. Now, as luck would have it, she again faced Allertova.

The 23-year-old Czech had also made progress from outside the top 100 since the start of last year, but she had not made the kind of progress achieved by Konta. Even so, she caused one of the upsets of the second round by beating No2 seed Kerber in straight sets.

However, Konta clearly feels at home in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and opening the day’s play in the warm midday sun, she quickly found her range to break in the fifth game with a cracking cross-court forehand winner. Allertova broke back, but Konta took the lead again with the third break in a row, and served out the set, 6-4 in three-quarters of an hour.

By the second set, Konta was striking the ball even more cleanly, while Allertova increasingly struggled on serve. The Czech’s first delivery dropped to 31 percent and she won just one point on her first serve, so Konta’s aggressive return of serve grabbed a quick break, and then another to lead 3-0.

Allertova pulled back one break in the fourth, but that would be the last resistance by the Czech. Konta broke once more to take set and match, 6-1, in an hour and 17 minutes.

Again, she thanked the crowd, who are warming to the Briton more with every round. What, she was asked, was the secret to her rise in the last year?

“I have a good team around me, and we’re doing some good work. Just stay humble.”

Yes, the crowd liked that too. And in the fourth round, it may be a rather bigger crowd, perhaps on the big stage of Stadium Court.

She will face Karolina Pliskova, who shocked the No14 seed, Ana Ivanovic, in a blistering 49 minutes for the loss of just two games. Ivanovic was carrying a knee problem, which may help explain the one-sided scoreline of 6-2, 6-0, but even so, this was an impressive performance from Pliskova. What’s more, the tall Czech, ranked 18, has beaten Konta in all three previous matches, so it won’t be easy for the Briton.

At the other end of this half of the draw, another seed came unstuck as No7 Belinda Bencic lost to unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, after more than two hours.

The Slovak will next play the newest woman to break the top 10, 33-year-old Roberta Vinci, who beat No17, Elina Svitolina, 6-1, 6-3, in a scant 61 minutes.

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