Konta, who was ranked just 46 when she made a first-round exit in New York last year, has since flourished after joining forces with coach Dimitri Zavialoff last October. With her confidence boosted still further by a successful GB Fed Cup run on home ground in London in April, Konta enjoyed her best ever clay season to reach the finals in Morocco and Rome, and then the semis at Roland Garros, adding the French Open to her semi run in Australia in 2016 and at Wimbledon in 2017.
But her best early performances came on the North American hard courts, notably her first Premier Mandatory title in Miami in 2017, and not only did she win her first Major match at the US Open—in 2012—but reached her first fourth round in 2015.
And after two straight opening round losses at Flushing Meadows, she is back to her confident, big-hitting best at the US Open again, where she has been building ever-more-impressive wins with each round.
A potentially difficult opener against the talented Daria Kasatkina showed all Konta’s grit over a three-set test, before she beat Margarita Gasparyan in just 54 minutes.
Now in the heat of Friday afternoon, she broke Zhang in the first game, and went on to dominate most of the match, conceding just six points on serve and conceding no breaks.
In the fourth round, though, things will get much tougher against No3 seed Karolina Pliskova, a former finalist in New York and among the favourites for the title this year. The tall Czech has a 6-1 record against Konta, including their last two meetings, most recently in that Rome final in May.
Nevertheless, based on her tennis thus far, she has good reason to hope for a reversal in New York: Pliskova needed three sets and more than two hours to each the fourth round. And should Konta reach the quarters, she will be the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1983 to do so.
Of the Pliskova challenge, Konta said:
“I think it’s guaranteed when you go on the court against Karolina that there’s going to be parts in the match, especially in the service games, when there’s not going to be much for you to do… I also like to think that I’ve also even grown as a player since Rome, as well. I am actually looking forward to seeing how I can do a bit better, how I can just maybe ask some better questions this time around.”
Of her improved form over the last few months, she explained:
“I think, more than anything, it’s just probably decision making [that’s improved] and also probably in terms of when or how I play certain things. I think just general awareness on court, just aware of what my opponents are doing…. I’m putting a lot of time and effort into being very open to the game when I’m out on court. I think that’s something that has been getting better for me.”
She elaborated on an element that she and Zavialoff touched on during the French Open, the conscious decision to help Konta become more self-sufficient in her decision-making during match-play:
“I think I’m enjoying more of it… I think because I’m more in tune and more invested, more aware of everything that I’m doing, because I’ve become more self-sufficient in the decisions I’m making—outside the court, as well. I think overall I’m just enjoying more of what I’m doing, the different aspects of what I’m doing.
“I think it’s just a bit of evolution in my own career. I’m just enjoying the whole thing a bit more.”
Konta is the last Briton left in the singles draws at the US Open after Dan Evans lost to Roger Federer, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, in just an hour and 19 minutes.
The defeat for Evans came fewer than 24 hours after a striking victory over No25 seed Lucas Pouille on Thursday following a wash-out on all but the two show courts on Wednesday.
Federer had made slow starts in his previous two matches, losing the first set twice—in a cool night match in Round 1, and under the roof in Round 2. But in the afternoon heat on Arthur Ashe—Evans’ first appearance there—Federer looked more like the five-time former champion.
Despite a spirited effort from the ever-rising Briton—and Evans will break the top 50 this month after being unranked little more than a year ago—the fatigue became more apparent as Federer plied his attacking trade through the shortest completed men’s match thus far. Indeed in the second set, Federer did not drop a point on his serve, and hit 20 winners compared to none from Evans.
The Briton did earn a break in the third game of the third set, but Federer quickly avenged his own lapse to break back and reel off five straight games for the win.
Federer has not missed the second week of the US Open since his debut appearance in 2000, and this took him to 88-13 overall in the tournament and a contest against No15 seed David Goffin. The two last met in the Halle final, a win for Federer, though the Belgian has been showing outstanding form through the North American swing, comes fresh from making his first Masters final in Cincinnati, and scoring a fine win over a resilient Pablo Carreno Busta, 76, 7-6, 7-5.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge