US Open 2015: Happy Jo Konta impresses in 14th straight win, but Laura Robson falls
Britain's Jo Konta took her winning streak to 14 matches to reach the second round of the US Open
Those who watched the rangy figure of Jo Konta win her first Grand Slam main draw match in 2012 would have had high hopes for the big-hitting 21-year-old.
But since that break-out win at the US Open, she had not made it past the first round at Major level again.
This year, however, Konta has re-emerged with that winning look, courtesy perhaps of help from a sports psychologist to help her overcome nerves that so often gripped her in those high-pressure places. For she has looked, in recent months, a calmer and more confident woman.
She thrilled her own Eastbourne crowd back in June, literally on home turf, to reach the quarter-finals via wins over the No8 ranked Ekatarina Makarova and then the rising star who, a fortnight later, made the Wimbledon final, Garbine Muguruza. She even took the first set from Belinda Bencic before losing, but it was evident that Konta was in a new place—happy, confident, and fitter than before.
Fast forward to July and the hard courts of Canada, and Konta put together back-to-back ITF titles in Granby and Vancouver, again beating higher ranked players. But her progress was not swift enough to avoid qualifying in New York. No matter, she won her three matches to join the main draw and, three years after that New York debut, won her second ever Grand Slam match against 19-year-old Louisa Chirico, 6-3, 6-0.
After some initial resistance from her American opponent, and an early exchange of breaks, Konta found her stride to break at 4-2, and coolly held through break points to take the first set.
That freed her up for some fine baseline hitting, particularly on her formidable cross-court backhand, and she broke straight away in the second set. Her new-found mental resilience saw her through five break points in the second game, and from there on, she raced to a 6-0 win with a love hold of serve, after precisely one hour.
GB Fed Cup captain, Judy Murray, was courtside to congratulate her, having told Sky TV that it was “the best match I’ve ever seen her play.”
Praise indeed, and Konta laughed when she heard the comment, before admitting: “It was definitely one of the better ones, yeah! Yeah, I’m very pleased with how I competed out there and dealt with the situation. It’s not easy coming out here in the first round of Slams, and there’s lots of tension, lot of nerves from everyone around, so I’m happy I was able to deal with that well and just take my chances when they arose.”
Murray wanted to know, though, what Konta felt had made such a difference in the last six months.
“I think enjoyment is a big factor, yes enjoyment—enjoying the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, being able to roll with the punches a bit better. Understand that no matter who I’m playing I have to work for every point, and that’s good.
“I think because I’m accepting the challenge and fighting for each point, I feel that I’ve become happy with just giving my best. And that’s OK. If I win the point that’s OK, if I lose the point that’s OK. As long as I’m giving consistent effort of my best, I come away happy.”
As it happens, she could face the woman who has now risen to No9, that Eastbourne opponent Muguruza. First, the similarly tall, big-striking Spaniard has to come through her opener against Carina Wotthoeft.
In another twist of the draw, Konta was also in the same segment as Laura Robson, here with a protected ranking after a year and a half away from the tour with a wrist injury that required surgery in April 2014.
It has been a tough two years for the Briton. Still now only 21 years old, she hit a career-high ranking back then to enter the US Open as a seeded player for the first time in a Grand Slam.
But the signs of wrist problems were already in evidence that autumn, and she did not make her return from last year’s surgery until this summer’s grass season, and was still to win a main-tour match.
Yet Robson had found some success at the US Open before, reaching the fourth round in only her second appearance in 2012, and then the third round in 2013. And while she had not played the No108 ranked Elena Vesnina before, was in sliding form and had not won a match since the French Open.
Robson—not surprisingly—took time to get into her stride, but as always had plenty of vocal support courtside. She faced off break points in the third game, and then broke in the sixth, and served out the set, 6-3.
Vesnina hit back in the second set to open a 3-0 lead, and a growing tally of double faults by Robson—five in this set—broke her service rhythm. Vesnina levelled the match, 6-3, but then Robson seemed to regain the upper hand and regroove her serve in the third, racing to a 4-0 lead.
Again, though, Vesnina hit back with two breaks of her own, and they remained locked at 5-5 when Robson again tightened up, fatally, on serve. A 12th double fault, followed by a backhand hit wide, and Vesnina had broken her to love, and the Russian served out the win, 7-5.
It was, perhaps, optimistic to expect Robson to score her first win after such a long break from the game, but she will be disappointed to have let such a decisive lead slip.
All three British men in the main draw took to court on this second day, too. James Ward quickly followed Robson out of the tournament with a straight-sets loss to No30 seed Thomaz Bellucci, 6-1, 7-5, 6-3, but Aljaz Bedene benefited from a retirement against Ernests Gulbis to reach round two.
Andy Murray would take on Nick Kyrgios in the night session.