Classy Radwanska wins title No20 in Beijing, but Konta continues Singapore challenge
The race to the WTA Finals in Singapore is hotting up, with both Agnieszka Radwanska and Jo Konta in top form
It was late last summer that Briton Johanna Konta really began to convert her prodigious tennis talent into results.
Playing with a new calm and confidence, the result in part of work with a sports psychologist, Konta raced through qualifying at the US Open to reach the fourth round of a Major for the first time. She did just the same in Wuhan, where she made the quarters via Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep, and then at Linz.
A year on, and Konta is a Grand Slam semi-finalist—in Australia—and winner of the Stanford Premier. She thus arrived to play the main draw at the prestigious Beijing Premier Mandatory for the first time, seeded No11. Having won a total 20 matches in her first four years on the tour, she was already up to 43 so far in 2016.
It all meant that her final appearance in Beijing’s magnificent centre court had marked many milestones.
With wins over formidable opponents such as Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys, she has already assured of becoming the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1984 to break the top 10.
Only three other British women had ever made the top 10 since computerised rankings began, and the other two were Grand Slam champions Sue Barker and Virginia Wade.
Konta had also broken into the elite eight in the race to the WTA Finals in Singapore, though she still had to fend off other women determined to make the journey to the season’s finale, high-achieving women such as Keys, Garbine Muguruza and Dominika Cibulkova. Championship points in Beijing would boost her ranking and her chances.
Her problem, however, was the player on the other side of the net, Agnieszka Radwanska, who could not just outdo Konta’s 2015 Asian swing but owned a superb year-on-year record through Asia.
The popular Pole, world No3 and five times the WTA Fans Favourite, was already assured of her place at the WTA Finals—for the eighth time—and in Beijing was champion in 2011, runner-up in 2009, and twice a semi-finalist.
Last year, she not only reached the semis in Beijing but won Tokyo, Tianjin and the WTA Championship, a 16-19 winning run in Asia. This year, she was already 17-21 in Asia, and had made seamless progress to this final. Thus far, she had not dropped a set, and only once in five matches had she even gone to a tie-break. What’s more she had beaten Konta in their only previous meeting in Cincinnati.
Indeed, the poised and nimble Polish woman is one of the most difficult players to master, a woman whose slight physique determined that she would become one of the most tactically astute on the tour, and evolve a variety of shots to delight fans. It is no accident that she charms crowds almost everywhere she plays.
So while Konta, who has this season also aimed to build on her big serve and baseline hitting with more net plays, held her opening game, it was not long before Radwanska had cracked open the drop-shot/lob combo to hold her first game with ease, and then break Konta in the third.
The Briton was unable to counter the touch and variety of Radwanska, who made a winning pass off a Konta drop-shot to break for a second time in the seventh game.
The Pole stepped up to serve for the first set having dropped just three points on serve, but now faced break points for the first time, and sure enough, Konta’s aggressive returns converted, 3-5. But the error tally was telling. Konta had made 10 to Radwanska’s four, and with two more break chances to level things in the 10th game, Konta smashed two overheads into the net. Radwanska held for the set, 6-4.
The Briton came under pressure in the opening game of the second set, as well, giving up a 40-0 lead for deuce and break point. But a timely ace, her first of the match, and a winning smash brought the hold.
In the third game, in contrast, she faced 0-40 but levelled to deuce. She held off one more break point but on the fifth, Radwanska converted to take the lead.
The pressure was beginning to show in Konta’s game. She smashed another overhead into the net as Radwanska consolidated her break, 3-1, and lost serve again in the fifth game.
She had two chances to work a break back in the sixth, producing a superb lob winner of her own, but Radwanska’s all-court placement, and her variety of spin and pace, were outstanding. She even closed out the match with her only ace—though not before showcasing one last drop-and-lob winner. In short, she out-manoeuvred and out-thought Konta through most of an absorbing final to capture her 20th title, 6-2.
Radwanska made just eight unforced errors in an hour and 35 minutes of play, in stark contrast to Konta’s 34, even though the Briton had powered twice as many winners.
The Pole was close to tears as she explained why Beijing is such a special tournament for her.
“Every title means a lot but especially here, one of biggest of the year… This trophy is going to take a very special place at home. What can I say? I’m just so happy.”
Konta, who is now scheduled to play in a top-flight draw in Hong Kong, reflected on her progress since she entered the Linz draw through qualifying, ranked 47, exactly a year ago.
“It’s pretty cool! I’m very pleased with my progress over the past few years and hopefully many more places to climb. I’m just working hard towards playing matches like these, against players like Agnieszka.”
Only time, and a small handful of remaining tournaments, will decide whether Konta holds onto her No8 place in the Race: That, and the results of her fellow competitors.
Current Race rankings: 1-8 Singapore, 9-20 Zhuhai
1 Angelique Kerber
2 Serena Williams
3 Agnieszka Radwanska
4 Simona Halep
5 Karolina Pliskova
The chasing pack
6 Garbine Muguruza
7 Madison Keys
8 Johanna Konta
9 Dominika Cibulkova
10Carla Suarez Navarro
11 Svetlana Kuznetsova
12 Petra Kvitova
13 Elina Svitolina
14 Venus Williams
15 Roberta Vinci
16 Timea Bacsinszky
17 Elena Vesnina
18 Sam Stosur
19 Barbora Strycova
20 Caroline Wozniacki