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Konta wins as Barty battles to great escape in Miami

Jo Konta claimed a welcome win at the Miami Open presented by Itaú on Thursday when she beat Magda Linette from Poland, 6-4 7-5, to reach the 3rd round, but other seeds, Ash Barty, Simona Halep and Aryna Sabalenka all dropped sets before surviving, while Coco Gauff lost to Anastasija Sevastova.

I’m really happy to come through that. It was a tough match against a tough opponent in tough conditions. It was hot, it was windy, so it was a lot of things out there to contend with, and I was just really pleased that I was able to compete well and find a way to come through. Jo Konta

World No 1 Barty overcame qualifier Kristina Kucova from Slovakia, 6-3 4-6 7-5, in two-and-a-half hours.

The Australian was forced to save a match point while down 3-5 in the 3rd set, but found the mettle to reel off the final 5 games to come through.

“Never give up, never ever give up,” Barty said, in her on-court post-match interview. “You’re always in there with a chance.”

Halep, playing in her first tournament since the Australian Open, overcame a slow start and a nagging shoulder to get past France’s Caroline Garcia, 4-6 6-4 6-0, in two hours, striking 26 winners to her opponent’s 26 unforced errors.

“We played so many times and I always expect a tough match from her, she’s serving super well and it’s really tough to return,” said the 3rd-seeded Romanian. “My serve was not really strong so I was under pressure the whole match.

“But in the second set I just relaxed a little bit, I changed the tactic, I made her move a little more to the forehand and she started to miss a little bit more and I got the confidence that I can come back.”

Sabalenka saw off 2 match points in the decisive final-set tiebreak before quashing the challenge by Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova, 0-6 3-6 7-6(9), also in two-and-a-half hours.

“Since a young age, my parents keep telling me, ‘It doesn’t matter what goes on in the court, you just have to fight, and if you will fight, you will get the wins’,” the Belarusian said on court.

Konta, the British No 1 who is seeded 17 in Miami, had a patchy 2020 and only managed 1 win against 7 first-round exits this year so dispatching the No 50th ranked Linette comes as a welcome confidence boost.

The Miami conditions clearly suit Konta, and it showed as she got the first break at the optimum moment, saving break-back point to serve out the first set, 6-4.

She faced a break-back point at the start of the second, but held firm, pulling off a drop-shot to hold for 2-0 and when Linette got on the board, and then threatened to break again, Konta held off for 3-1.

Linette did level, however, and Konta, alert to the danger, threw in a reassuring love hold for 4-4 and finally got the breakthrough in the 11th game, and served out the win, 7-5.

“I’m really happy to come through that,” Konta said. “It was a tough match against a tough opponent in tough conditions.

“It was hot, it was windy, so it was a lot of things out there to contend with, and I was just really pleased that I was able to compete well and find a way to come through.”

Konta had notched up only 9 wins since being sidelined by a knee problem after the 2019 US Open and suffered an abdominal problem during her first-round match in Melbourne last month when she had to retire.

She has gone back at school to study, nominating history and maths as her two best subjects for the 3-month Harvard Business course that is now in its 5th year.

“I liked maths for the fact there was going to be a wrong or a right answer. I liked that predictability of it,” she said.

“And then I’ve always loved history, I love stories. I loved learning about Greek mythology, or ancient Mesopotamia, or ancient Egypt.

“I always enjoyed the process of learning and I think that translates into my tennis career. Starting to study a little bit again has been a bit nerve-racking, a bit intimidating, but also really fulfilling.”

With help from three current Harvard students – Sam, who has a media background, Mike, who was in the military, and Mark, a former dancer – Konta has been working on various case studies.

Konta ist forthcoming about what a future business career might entail.

The 29-year-old is a keen cook, and has already established a dog-walking business with her partner, Jackson.

“I love dogs, and I really want to do right by them in this world,” she said.

“So I’m passionate about happy canines – it’s very much in the infant stages, but it’s something I’m definitely looking to how I can grow.

“And I’m passionate about food in a lot of different ways: from the general consumption of it to the really charitable side of it in food waste and hungry people. There’s so many different things I want to do with that.”

First though, Konta needs to graduate, and focus on winning some more matches.

In the 3rd round she faces Czech Petra Kvitova, the 9th seed, who had little difficulty in dispatching France’s Alizé Cornet, 6-0 6-4.

The British No 1 revealed she will not be part of Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup, formerly the Fed Cup, team when they take on Mexico in a World Group play-off in London next month because she wants to give her troublesome knee time to adjust ahead of the clay-court season.

Ash Barty stared defeat in the face in Miami on Thursday but survived against Kristina Kucova at Hard Rock Stadium

© Mark Brown/Getty Images

Top seed Barty took 50 hours to reach Miami from Australia and looked somewhat out of sorts against Kucova, who came through qualifying and scored a win in the first round so was looking very at home on the Hard Rock courts.

Barty, Miami’s defending champion, is a wily competitor, however, and despite her frustration, she kept her nose to the grindstone as she stared defeat in the face.

The first set was relatively straightforward as she used her excellent volleying skills to charge back from an early break down and grab the one-set lead, scoring 11 winners to Kucova’s 2 in the opening frame.

The Slovak made her mark in the second, though, after dropping serve in the first game, striking struck back right away to get level and then held on through to 5-4, pushing the Aussie’s patience.

With Barty serving at 30-0, Kucova reeled off 3 straight points to suddenly reach set point, and after the top seed’s forehand flew long, the qualifier had tied up the match at a set apiece.

Kucova continued her momentum into the decider, using her backhand to force an error from Barty as she edged ahead by a break at 3-1.

She was hitting the ball with confidence as Barty’s normally steely resolve wobbled, she zipped to match point when serving at 5-3.

A weak serve allowed Barty to swat it away with a forehand return winner and, almost inevitably, she broke and clawed her way back into the match., aggressive play at the net giving her a 6-5.

Although she fell behind 0-40 while serving for the match, 2 aces and a volley winner powered Barty back to deuce, and she held on from there for a remarkable win.

“Overall just really happy that I never gave up and just gave myself the chance to stay on the hunt,” Barty said on court. “Today was really hard work, and I enjoyed every single minute of it.

“There’s nothing like coming through a test like that, and now I get another opportunity, in a couple days time, to play another tough match, and test myself again.”

Barty hit 15 aces, tying her career-high for aces in a match and, remarkably, finished with no double-faults.

Playing her first match outside of Australia in over a year, Barty’s great escape sets up a 3rd round match-up with Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, who needed 3 sets to get past Kirsten Flipkens, the lucky loser from Belgium after Alison Riske, the No 25=seeded American withdrew.



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