Miami Open 2016: Konta edges nearer top 20 after joining Watson in fourth round

Johanna Konta is through to the fourth round of the Miami Open along with Heather Watson

The rise and rise of Briton Johanna Konta, who jumped 100 places in the rankings last year, continues apace since her breakthrough semi-final run at the Australian Open.

On another sweltering day at the Miami Open, the tall 24-year-old drew on all her the confidence she built with her team during 2015 to hold off a tough opponent in Elena Vesnina through a marathon two-and-a-half-hour three-setter, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(3).

The Russian is currently ranked 96, though has been as high as 21, and came through qualifying to beat No10 seed Venus Williams in the second round, also in a long three-setter.

Against Konta, she opened boldly, immediately earning three break points on the Briton’s serve, but Konta won five straight points to hold, and that set the tone for a close tussle in the early stages: It took 22 minutes to reach 2-2.

Vesnina hit again in the seventh game to break and served it out, 6-4, as Konta’s usually impressive serving let her down: just 46 percent of her first deliveries found their mark.

But Konta began to find her big clean-hitting form in the second set, and straight away broke to love. She broke again on her way to a strong 6-1 set, now with six aces on the board, and when she broke to take an early lead in the third, she looked set to keep it simple—until Vesnina broke back to level things at 4-4.

Both women were taking advantage of ice collars at every change of ends and, just as Watson had done the day before, both headed off to change their clothes after the second set. Even so, the toughness of the conditions were written all over their faces, though neither gave an inch as they edged towards a tie-break without offering another break point.

There, too, they remained locked at the first change of ends, 3-3, but Konta’s superior cross-court power and serving carried her through the next four points for the set, and a guaranteed 120 ranking points.

She afterwards credited her aggressive tactics as key, telling the BBC: “There’s obviously ebbs and flows in a match. I was playing better in parts and not so good in parts. But I really just tried to stay offensive and have things end on my terms as much as possible.”

Thus far, Konta could be looking at a rise to a new ranking high, as she did not play in Miami last year. Indeed she has few points to defend until the grass season, the period when she began to make her presence felt last year with two quarter-finals—though she lost in the first-round at Wimbledon.

There is, therefore, room for more progress by the French Open, and perhaps still more by the time North America’s US Open season begins.

For now, though, Konta will be focusing on her first seed in Miami, the lowest ranked of the 32, in Monica Niculescu, the woman who ended Konta’s run in Nottingham last summer in a two-hour-21-minute test. What’s more, there is no day’s rest at this stage of the schedule: She will be on court by mid afternoon [early evening in the UK], as long as the humid conditions have not generated the forecast thunderstorms by then.

Of Niculescu, who beat Coco Vandeweghe 6-4, 6-1, Konta commented: “We’ve only played once before and that was last year in Nottingham. It was a very tough match there, and I know she’s one of the trickiest players on tour and one of the best competitors as well. At the end, I think it’ll be a match where there’ll be very little in it and I’m just going to do my best to fight every single point.”

Should Konta come through that, she faces a very tough quarter-final test against either No4 seed Garbine Muguruza or the resurgent two-time former Miami champion, Victoria Azarenka.

The Easter Monday British schedule is another challenging one for supporters back home, as Konta is timed to play on Court 1 at the same time as Andy Murray takes on Grigor Dimitrov on Stadium Court.

Before that, and opening proceedings on Court 1, is Heather Watson, who has made hay with her Miami wild card to become the only unseeded woman left in the top half of the draw. She has already put out No20 seed Sloane Stephens, but now faces the considerably bigger challenge of No5 seed Simona Halep.

Halep needs to reach the quarter-finals to remain in the top 5—she reached the semis in Miami last year—for she has actually won fewer matches this year than the 69-ranking Watson, though she seems to be regaining her form since reaching the quarters in Indian Wells.

Halep has also won their two previous meetings, but Watson has been playing confidently, and won the Monterrey title less than a month ago.

There has been one more British success story to celebrate this week. As well as three players in the fourth round of the singles draw, Jamie Murray was confirmed as next week’s No1 doubles player for the first time.

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