French Open 2019: Johanna Konta seals 150th career match-win to reach Round 3
Konta will not play No4 seed Kiki Bertens after the Dutch woman retired sick
It was already a breakthrough tournament for the top-ranked British woman Johanna Konta, who 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.
That marked her first entry into the main draw in Paris, but every year since, she had fallen at the first hurdle—until this year. She beat qualifier Antonio Lottner to break her duck, and that set a second-round meeting with wild card Lauren Davis, who beat Kristyna Pliskova to score only her second ever match-win in the tournament: Her first was in her debut appearance in 2012.
Konta had played Davis three times before, and the American won their only clay meeting—but that was seven years ago, and they had not met since 2013.
The door opened, then, for Konta to take another step into the unknown, though beyond Davis, her most likely opponent was scheduled to be Bertens again. But in the event, the Dutch woman was retiring in her match just as Konta was sealing the first set on Court 1.
It was, in fact, a very close opening set that took 50 minutes to resolve. In the middle, each player in turn faced and saved break points, Davis to make it 3-3, Konta to stay firm at 4-3.
But come the eighth game, Konta upped the attack, held the net for another break point, played a drop winner for a second, and finally got her breakthrough at the third attempt.
Even then, Davis dug in, came back at her, and the petite American has plenty of variety in her game to test and probe on both wings. But Konta saved beak point and served it out, 6-3.
Then everything went awry for the Briton. The errors flowed, the confidence drained, and Davis, who carried heavy strapping on her left knee throughout the contest, took full advantage. The American broke twice to lead 5-0 before Konta held, but Davis served out the set, 6-1, and seemed to have the momentum.
But Konta has talked of her growing self-assurance since she began working with her new coach at the end of last season. After her first win in Paris, she said:
“I think more than anything, I was just pleased with how I was able to handle the challenges. I mean, against her, there wasn’t much rhythm in the match… I was just happy that I was able to really stay calm through that.
“And also when I found myself in tricky situations or points where the match could have swung either way, I thought I stayed quite calm. And I think just trusted myself enough to be able to handle whatever was going to come.”
That calm determination came to the fore with a break in the second game, followed by a hold to love, 3-0. She broke again and held again, and served for the match at 5-1.
But with two match points on her racket, nerves seem to kick in again, and Davis broke, held, and had more break points to get things back on serve when Konta double faulted for 0-40. Yet the Briton went for her shots to get it back to deuce, and on one more match point, she took the ball from the air for a winning drive volley, 6-3. It had taken two hours 10 minutes, but she was into the third round.
“I’m definitely playing good tennis right now,” Konta said afterwards. “I think I’m competing well. I think when I’m presented with tough situations out there, I keep a cool head. And I’m managing to problem-solve well, which makes me difficult to play.
“However, it’s not always an upward trajectory, and I’ve really fought hard in a lot of the matches, and a lot of matches I had to turn around. I was down in a lot of them.
“So overall just pleased with the tennis I’m playing. And for me it just feels like a continuous development on just getting better. And it’s nice to be rewarded with some great wins in the last few weeks, but it keeps moving forward, doesn’t it?”
And instead of Bertens, Konta now plays the 21-year-old Viktoria Kuzmova, ranked 46, and into her first Major third round.
Needless to say, it was a tearful Bertens who came to press to explain how a stomach virus had halted her campaign—and make no mistake, she was one of the favourites for the title here. She had been ill all night, and although she was feeling a little better before the match, the problem returned when she was warming up to play. She finally threw in the towel, 3-1 down.
She put it thus:
“It’s really bad timing, I would call it maybe that. It’s been a great few weeks, and then if you feel like this during a Grand Slam where you felt good, it’s just really annoying. I just hope I feel better soon.”
Also in this segment of the draw, No23 seed Donna Vekic beat Rebecca Peterson, 1-6, 6-1, 6-1. In the bottom quarter, Marketa Vondrousova will next play No28 seed Carla Suarez Navarro, and No12 seed Anastasija Sevastova will take on No20 seed Elise Mertens.