Wimbledon 2018

Wimbledon 2018: Johanna Konta goes out to on-fire Dominika Cibulkova

Johanna Konta loses to Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of Wimbledon

When it comes to rankings, it can be a curse to put together a best-ever season, as Johanna Konta did in 2017.

She began last year with a title, in Sydney, continued with her biggest win to date, the Premier Mandatory in Miami, and then went on a surge on the grass of home to reach the final in Nottingham and semis in Eastbourne, before becoming the first British woman in almost 40 years to make the semis at Wimbledon.

It all took her into the top four in the world, and she stayed at No7 until late autumn despite struggling with a niggling injury. Four first-round losses, and then a foot injury forcing her to miss the Kremlin Cup, cost her a place at the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Points slipped off her ranking after the Australian Open, where she had made the quarters in 2017, and more went after she failed to defend in Miami. By the French Open, she was down at 22: the 12-month treadmill of ranking points can be a demoralising process.

But back on grass and back at home, there were signs of her old form. She reached the final in Nottingham before falling to two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in Birmingham, and then to Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in Eastbourne. Both women went on to win their respective titles. And 12 months on from her peak last year, she was buoyed up just to be here again.

“I’m really excited. I’m really happy… I’m treating this week as another opportunity for me to perform and for me to keep building on what I feel is a better and better level that I’ve been playing over the last number of weeks.

“Just looking forward to going out there, competing, doing the best that I can. At the end of the day, I’m only accountable to myself. To make sure that I do myself justice in the effort that I put in.”

She came through her opener strongly but the competition was about to get much tougher, from facing No103 in the world to facing the woman who was displaced in the seedings by the discretionary No25 awarded to Serena Williams.

Dominika Cibulkova also reached a career-high of No4 early last year, and also went on a run of poor form via injury problems, which continued through 2018, and she arrived at Wimbledon as No32—and out of the seedings.

She and Konta had only met on hard courts before, with Konta winning the last two of the three in straight sets. But Cibulkova, a former runner-up in Australia, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros, and twice a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon, has always been renowned for her feisty and never-say-die tennis. Konta was only too aware of the danger.

“She’s probably one of the best competitors on tour, has been for quite some time. She’s a feisty player. I think it will be a great test for me to keep a good focus on controlling what I can, accept that she’s going to fight her way into some points, and really stay there until the very end.”

The small Slovak played as though she had something to prove: It was fast and furious, and she pummelled Konta from the back of the court with fine strikes down the lines tp get the first break, 2-4. After just 35 minutes, Cibulkova had the set, 6-3.

The break came even quicker in the second set, despite Konta attempting to go on the offensive, strike to the net when she could, and up the level of her first serve. Cibulkova broke in third game, and although she had a break-back chance in the sixth game, she could not convert.

Konta dug in impressively in the latter stages, and she fought off some stunning tennis from the Slovak—who powered winners to the corners with apparent ease—to hold off match points for 4-5. However, Cibulkova showed all her quality to serve out the match to love, 6-4. It had taken only an hour and 18 minutes.

Konta sized up her opponent’s performance calmly:

“I think she’s very feisty in the way she plays. She brings a lot out of herself. With each match she plays, very, very physical, very present, in her mannerisms and the way she fights on court. When she’s playing well, I think she goes for her shots… looks to dictate. When she’s playing well, she plays incredibly freely… She was obviously seeing the ball very well and feeling very good. I found it very difficult to really get a foothold into the match. That was a lot to do with how she played.”

That ranking treadmill will now hit Konta harder still. She is set to fall outside the top 40 once her Wimbledon points fall off. Even so, she refused to be demoralised:

“To be honest, I think this Wimbledon is another demonstration of how seeding is not the be all, end all. The depth we have in the women’s game, how players can play very well in any certain match, I am not terribly worried about losing a number next to my name.”

She will hope to regroup and perform well in the season of the year where she produced some of her best early results: San Jose [replacing Stanford], Montreal, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open.

At least the boot is now on the other foot: Konta has very few points to defend until the end of the year, so she will hope to reverse her ranking direction soon.

In the same quarter, world No1 Simona Halep came through Saisai Zheng, 7-5, 6-0; Elise Mertens, No15, beat Sachia Vickery; Jelena Ostapenko, No12, beat Kirsten Flipkens; Daria Gavrilova, No26, beat Sam Stosur; Anett Kontaveit, No28, beat Jennifer Brady; and Belinda Bencic beat Alison Riske.

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