French Open 2019: Johanna Konta reaches Round 4 in record time and in style
Konta becomes first British woman to reach fourth round in Paris since 1983
Johanna Konta’s adventure at Roland Garros was gathering pace. She went from losing in the first round on all her four previous visits at the French Open, to winning two matches back-to-back, the second of them a gutsy three-set win in two and a quarter hours, and with a head-cold to boot.
So it was already a breakthrough tournament for the top-ranked British woman who had not made the third round of a Major since reaching the semis at Wimbledon in 2017. And her form was improving all the time.
She had worked her way, in the space of a month, from world No46 up to No26 and thus a seeding at Roland Garros.
First she reached the final in Rabat, her first final on clay, then made the final in Rome, beating Sloane Stephens and Madrid champion Kiki Bertens on the way. She had never previously passed the quarter-final stage on the red stuff, and until Rabat, had never won more than two consecutive main-draw matches on the surface since qualifying for Roland Garros in 2015.
Now she had a very real chance of making it three in a row in Paris when she took on the No46 ranked 21-year-old Viktoria Kuzmova for the first time.
The young player from Slovakia was a woman on the rise but had won just four matches on clay, and was untested against the in-form Kiki Bertens, who retired after four games.
And Konta began with purpose, striking the ball clean and strong, clearly determined to get this match finished before bad light stopped play. She would hit 20 winners for just 10 errors, and broke immediately to go 2-0 up.
Kuzmova got the break back to serve at 3-2, but the Briton came out on top of a blistering baseline rally with a forehand down-the-line winner for break point, and an over-enthusiastic backhand from Kuzmova handed the advantage back to Konta, 4-2: the Briton consolidated for 5-2.
The Slovak’s serving was off the mark, at just 31 percent, and Konta took her returns early and on the rise. She raced through another break with first-strike tennis, to claim the set in just 30 minutes, 6-2.
The second set began in similar style, a hold followed by an immediate break, and then a love hold. Kuzmova got on the board with her first decent serving game since early in the first set, 3-1, but she could not stem Konta’s serving tide. The Briton made another love hold, broke again, and served for her place in the fourth-round, 6-1, with only 54 minutes on the clock.
She afterwards told ITV:
“I had a lot of things go my way today and I think I knew going into the match that I really had to not give her the opportunity to have the time… So I was just trying to impose myself as much as possible. I’m really pleased with that.”
She next plays Donna Vekic, seeded 23, who beat No14 seed Belinda Bencic, 6-4, 6-1. The two women have had six previous meetings, split evenly 3-3, but never on clay. The 22-year-old Croat, however, won their last two hard-court contests, and they have had some famously close contests, most notably on grass.
“We’ve had plenty of battles on the court and we know each other off the court, we’re good friends, so it will be another privilege to play. She’s a great player, playing really well.”
But already, Konta has continued to mark significant milestones on her way to her first fourth round here. She becomes the first British woman to make the last 16 in Paris since Anne Hobbs and Jo Durie did so in 1983—and Durie went on to reach the semi-finals.
If Konta is to reach the semis, which would be her third Major semi-final, she will still have to negotiate some tough opposition that remains in her quarter. After Vekic, she will face the winner between former champion Garbine Muguruza and last year’s runner-up, Sloane Stephens. The latter came through a long three-setter over Polona Hercog, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, while Muguruza upset Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 6-3.
One campaign that did conclude in the third round was the competition for the No1 ranking. At the start of Roland Garros, four players had a chance to overtake Naomi Osaka, but with the first-round loss by Angelique Kerber, withdrawal by Petra Kvitova, and mid-match retirement of Kiki Bertens, only No2 seed Karolina Pliskova could displace Osaka.
However, the tall Czech, who came to Paris in great form after winning the Rome Premier, lost in straight sets to No31 seed Petra Martic. Her 6-3 6-3 loss made her the fourth of the women’s top-10 seeds to exit, and Svitolina then made it five.
Martic will now face two-time quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi.
No12 seed Anastasija Sevastova won a gripping and high-quality contest, the longest women’s match so far this year at three and a quarter hours, beating No20 seed Elise Mertens 6-7(3), 6-4, 11-9.