Wimbledon 2019: Konta keeps up the pace to beat former champ Kvitova for QF spot
No1 Barty, No3 Pliskova and teenage star Gauff all beaten
In truth, there were not many pundits who thought the 15-year-old Coco Gauff could continue her run through the singles draw beyond Manic Monday, the day on which the last 16 of both singles draws attempt to earn their places in the quarter-finals.
She had already become the youngest woman in the Open era to make it through qualifying, and was now the youngest woman to reach the fourth round since Martina Hingis in 1996. That she had already confounded the experts to beat her hero Venus Williams in the first round, and come back from a set and a break down to beat Polona Hercog mattered not.
But before these two women took to court, another player had already confounded the odds. Many experts’ favourite for the title here this week, the French Open champion and world No1 Ashleigh Barty, had sailed into the final 16 with just 12 games dropped, and when she opened her match against Alison Riske with four aces, the writing appeared to be on the wall.
Not so fast, said the 29-year-old American, who had played three three-setters to get here, twice coming back from a set down, and she would do the same again.
World No55 Riske lost the first set, 3-6, but she began to draw more errors from Barty, whose serve level dropped off, while Riske’s big game and all-court strength countered for a 6-2 second set. She continued to dominate in the third, too, 6-3, and just over an hour and a half of three very pacey sets.
The American, who had been close to tears after coming back from the brink against Bencic, was again almost overcome: After all, this marked her first Major quarter-final.
Now she faces what many regard as the ultimate challenge at Wimbledon, seven-time champion and runner-up here last year, Serena Williams. The mighty American beat Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2. 6-2.
And so to Gauff: Could she upset the odds, too?
It was perhaps little wonder that Halep, former world No1 and a Major champion, broke in the first game. However, Gauff, the girl with a big game not unlike that of Venus, broke straight back.
Halep, though, is one of the most resilient and experienced women in the draw, and had come through her own tough section in a fiendish quarter. She had dropped only one set, and made Victoria Azarenka look like an amateur, allowing her just four games. Here, she got another quick break to take the first set, 6-3, and she quickly broke in the second game of the next set, too, 2-0.
Again, the young American resisted, broke back, but then called the doctor for a stomach problem. No matter, she continued to the bitter end—and it was the end—after Halep broke again and served out the match, 6-3, in just an hour and a quarter.
So the fairy-tale run ends at Wimbledon, but Gauff will be back, better and stronger, and perhaps even a future champion.
Meanwhile, former semi-finalist Halep continues to look impressive, and should have few problems in her next match, either. She will face Shuai Zhang, ranked 50, who was responsible for the exit of Caroline Wozniacki, and now put out the other teenager left in the draw, Dayana Yastremska.
The only British player left in the singles draw was Johanna Konta, and she featured in what was billed as perhaps the best women’s match-up of the day against two-time Wimbledon champion, and No6 seed, Petra Kvitova.
The popular Czech, who missed so much time off the tour after she was attacked in her home, sustaining almost career-ending damage to her playing hand, was back in form this season with two titles plus a final run to the Australian Open, though she missed the French Open and then Birmingham’s grass with a left arm injury. Once here, though, she had not dropped a set, but then she had not played a seed either.
She had a winning record over Konta, 3-1, though they were one apiece on grass. Konta also made a Wimbledon semi-final in 2017, and arrived at SW19 following her best ever clay season, with another Major semi at Roland Garros.
Her dominant win over Sloane Stephens, her second in the space of a month, promised more, and sure enough, while a close first set was sealed by Kvitova with a break for 6-4, Konta powered up in the second with some formidable baseline tennis, throwing in passes and lobs to break twice and lead 5-1. She would serve it out, 6-2, and with considerable momentum.
And she rode that momentum into a determined break in the third game, 2-1, and made another for 4-1. By this stage, Centre Court was on its feet after each game she knocked off as they smelled victory. It did not come quite as quickly as hoped, as two match points came and went in a flurry of deuces and a break back by Kvitova. But that break’s cushion paid off, and after a hold by Kvitova, Konta made no mistake this time, serving out the win, 6-4, after two and a half hours.
She told the BBC:
“Of course [nerves] started to kick in a bit… Kvitova started playing really free and hitting through the balls. She was playing really well and I expected it to go to 5-5 at some point. So I was happy to stick with what I was doing well.
She added with a big smile:
“I feel tremendously grateful to be here and I’m happy just to still be in this event and to be competing against the best players in the world. You can’t ask for much more as a professional tennis player.”
Konta will next play the 54-ranked Barbora Strycova, who beat No24 seed Elise Mertens, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Another extraordinary match was unfolding while Konta and Kvitova battled, with No3 seed Karolina Pliskova taking on fellow Czech, the 22-year-old Karolina Muchova, ranked just 68.
The former No1 took the first set, 6-4, but Muchova levelled, 7-5, and they then embarked on a set that lasted an hour and 50 minutes and looked set to trial the new tie-break rule at 12-12 for the first time. But first Pliskova broke for an 11-10 lead, and could not close it out. Muchova broke back, held, and then broke again, 13-11, to reach her first Major quarter-final in her first Wimbledon.
Muchova will now face No8 seed Elina Svitolina, who beat Petra Martic, 6-4, 6-2. And that means every women’s quarter-final will set one seed against a non-seed. How many more matches will, then, will upset the odds?