US Open 2015: Jo Konta strikes No15 in record-breaking Muguruza win

Britain's Jo Konta stuns ninth seed and Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza to reach third round of US Open

Cast the memory back three years, to the US Open 2012, and the site of Jo Konta’s first ever Grand Slam match win.

This correspondent, watching courtside, was immediately impressed by the young Briton’s potential: “Johanna Konta, growing in confidence, it seems, with each blistering day, has won her first career Grand Slam match to progress to the second round of the US Open. Having already come through qualifying unseeded, she beat the 59-ranked Hungarian, Timea Babos, 6-2, 7-5, with another display of power, aggression and full-blooded commitment that bodes well for her future success.”

A month later, Konta would meet the young Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza, in qualifying in Luxembourg, take the first set, but finally lose out 7-5 in the third. For while Konta delivered solid results on the ITF tour, and broke the top 100 in the summer of 2014, her main-tour main-draw wins proved hard to come by.

Fast forward to 2015, though, and a newly-confident Konta has re-emerged with a winning look—helped, it seems, by her sports psychologist to overcome the nerves that so often gripped her in those high-pressure places. When she took on Muguruza again, on the home turf of Eastbourne in June, she looked more focused, more calm, and suffused with self-belief. This time, she won their three setter.

A fortnight later, Muguruza made the Wimbledon final, broke into the top 10, and arrived in New York as the No9 seed, with many tipping her as the dark horse, a player whose big, powerful, smart game could break down the best. And who should she meet again but Konta.

But if the stakes were big for Muguruza, they were also significant for Konta. She arrived here from Canada with back-to-back ITF titles in Granby and Vancouver, but while her progress had not been swift enough to avoid qualifying for the Open, she still won three qualifying matches to join the main draw and, three years after that New York debut, won her second ever Grand Slam match.

GB Fed Cup captain, Judy Murray pronounced it “the best match I’ve ever seen her play.” Now, though, Konta had to raise her level still higher in an attempt to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

And it would become an epic, not just for breaking the US Open record for the longest women’s match—played, it should be added, in Flushing Meadows’ cauldron of a court, No17, in scorching conditions—but for the quality and attack from both women.

Each stands a good 1.80 metres tall, each has used their height to develop serves that hit in excess of 108mph and average over 100mph on their first delivery. They would, too, battle for dominance on their forehands.

But it would perhaps be Konta’s backhand that gave the Briton the edge in this marathon contest, as solid and aggressive a double-hander as you could wish to see.

Muguruza survived a 12-minute game and multiple break points in the fifth but double faulted in the seventh to give Konta the break. The Briton had the chance to break for the set at 5-4, too, but with the clock already at an hour, she had to try and serve it out. Now Muguruza changed it up, made a couple of volley winners, and broke back. It would be a tie-break.

There, too, they pegged each other until 4-4—level, too, on overall points. But after 1hr 20mins, Konta strung together three fine points to grab the set, 7-6(4).

The second set would be a near mirror of the first. This time, Konta survived an 11-minute third game, coming back from 0-40 down and through six deuces to hold. Each continued to press the other to stand at 4-4 as the clock hit two hours. And when the No9 seed upped her level again to break in ninth, Konta responded with an immediate break back. It would be another tie-break.

A double fault, only Konta’s second of the match, gave Muguruza the edge and the Spaniard served it out, 7-6(4).

Had the match started after 1pm, the two women may have opted for a 10-minute heat break: Instead, they took just a short comfort break and continued. Konta, in truth, seemed remarkably unaffected by the duration of the match or the conditions, while her opponent’s double fault count began to rise. Konta broke straight away, held with an ace and broke again.

As the match hit three hours, she battled past a break point for 4-0, and held six more break points in the fifth game, another 10-minute marathon held courageously by some bold play from the Spaniard.

But Konta proved even more resilient to fight off two break points for 5-1. And she would, with 3hrs 23mins on the clock, bring up match point with an ace before closing it out, 6-2, with forehand.

She even managed a few words courtside, though needed to sit down for the exchange. As always, she beamed: “I seem to be having a lot of records this year.

“I played the longest tie-break in the French Open history—but I lost that! Gosh! I’m super-duper happy to be in the next round. She probably didn’t bring her best tennis to the court but she’s still one of the best competitors out there, and that’s why she’s top 10.”

Konta went on to compare this win with that first one in 2012.

“Obviously everything is a progression, I’m three years older, and I’d like to thing three years wiser. I’m working with a really good team and I’ve obviously got my mental guy in the corner as well, so I’m really fortunate with the energy and the personalities I have around me, and they make it clear that they are tools for me, and they look for me to continue my independence out there, and calm and enjoyment and… Oh I’m tired!”

Little wonder. As she quickly explained, “I’ve got a lot of stuff to get done now…”, and that will include preparation for another tall, rangy, big-hitting seed, Andrea Petkovic—who plays a game not a million miles from Muguruza’s. It is, in short, a winnable match if Konta can summon up the energy in two days’ time to do this all over again.

As for the quality of the tennis and the confidence, they will now be taken as read. With 15 straight wins and into her first Major third-round, she has nothing to lose.

Also in this quarter, topped by Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova, there were wins for former champion Sam Stosur over Evgeniya Rodina—she has dropped only nine games in the tournament thus far. No16 seed Sara Errani’s progress was tougher, a 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jelena Ostapenko.

In the bottom quarter, two-time finalist here, No20 Victoria Azarenka, came back from an early break to beat Yanina Wickmayer, 7-5, 6-4 and next takes on No11 seed Angelique Kerber, while at the bottom of the quarter, Simona Halep had little trouble against Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-3, 6-4.

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