British No 1 Johanna Konta took nearly three hours to battle past home player Ajla Tomljanovic in Melbourne’s blistering heat to reach the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
I didn’t get to win as many of these matches last year. Iit’s only the third tournament of the year so there’s a lot of tennis to play and hopefully I can win a lot of these this season. Jo Konta
Tomljanovic was born and raised in Croatia before heading down under and finally gaining citizenship a year ago, while Konta spent the first half of her life in Australia before heading to Britain.
It took a match tiebreak to separate them in a tight contest that took place on Court 3 at Melbourne Park in sauna-like conditions.
Unseeded this year, Konta, a 2018 semi-finalist, fired 16 aces and 47 winners past her opponent but could only convert 1 out of her 9 break point opportunities against Tomljanovic.
Despite being born in Sydney, the World No 38 admitted that she found it tough to deal with the conditions.
“I’m feeling a little shaky on the legs, it’s hot out here, very humid. I’m looking forward to getting inside and starting the recovery process,” Konta reflected on the 32 degree heat.
“I am really happy to have come through that. She played some incredible tennis and sometimes I had to hang tough there.
“When the wind stops, it’s like you’re in a steam room more than anything.
“You try to put it at the back of your mind as much as possible. Everyone is going through the same thing.”
British hopes were dented on Day One of the Australian Open as Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund both crashed out, but the women are still going strong as Konta joined Katie Boulter in the second round.
In a match that could have swung either way, the 27-year-old won 7-6(4) 2-6 7-6(7) to seal a second-round encounter with Garbiñe Muguruza, who dispatched China’s Saisai Zheng, 6-2 6-3.
Although Konta lost her opening service game, she fought back to take the first set to a tiebreak with a flying backhand handing her two set points.
It was more of the same in the second as the Brit lost four games on the trot to hand her opponent the second set, taking the match into a decider.
Following a somewhat controversial five-minute bathroom break for Konta, which displeased her opponent, the two entered a hard-fought third set.
Konta missed four opportunities in the opening game as both rallied hard under the blazing Melbourne sun.
Taking the final set into the match tiebreak, Tomljanovic seized the initiative after a few badly placed drop shots from her British rival, but errors of her own saw it level at 7-7 before Konta grabbed the mini break and sealed the match with a superb cross-court forehand into the ad corner.
The win brought sweet revenge for Konta, who earlier in the month had suffered a straight sets loss to the Australian in Brisbane.
Following a turbulent second half of 2018, 27-year-old Konta is hoping to get back on track after having only managed to win back-to-back matches in 2 out of the past 10 tournaments since August, during which time, she opted to enlist the help of new coach Dimitri Zavialoff.
“I didn’t get to win as many of these matches last year,” Konta said. “it’s only the third tournament of the year so there’s a lot of tennis to play and hopefully I can win a lot of these this season.
“I think overall I’m just very happy to have been able to stay there with her when she was playing well but also play tennis on my terms as well which was important for me to learn from especially after the last time we played a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane.
“So I thought I did a good job of trying to find the balance and conditions were tough out there for both of us.”
Awaiting the Brit in the second round is two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza.
Konta has a winning head-to-head record against the Spaniard, famously outlasting her most recently in a then record-length US Open clash in 2015.
“I think that was the last time I played her,” she said. “I’d already beaten her at Eastbourne that year, but we haven’t played since 2015.
“She’s a great player. She’s got two Grand Slam titles to her name. She plays big tennis. She competes very well. So that will be a big challenge to me.
“I think if anything I have learned over the number of years I have been on tour, is anybody can play at the very highest level on any given day,” she added.
“She is a heck of a player.”
While Muguruza has won Wimbledon and the French Open in the past, her form has also dipped dramatically in recent times and she has dropped from the top of the rankings to World No 18.
Muguruza admitted she was not surprised to see Konta slip down the rankings, just as she has done, insisting their styles of play leave them vulnerable to a dip.
“No, I’m not surprised [to see her drop down the rankings],” Muguruza said after her straight sets win over Zheng.
“I think people that have an aggressive game, they have good moments and not as good moments. I think that the ones that play well can always play well. It’s just that they take more risk.
“No, I’m not surprised. It’s just tennis is like that… I think we both have an aggressive game.
“I don’t know where she is at or her ranking and stuff, but I know it’s not easy. It’s tough. So the moment you don’t play extremely well, for sure, you’re out of the top level.”
Elsewhere, Serena Williams made a ruthless start to her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title with a 6-0 6-2 victory over unseeded German Tatjana Maria in just 49-minutes, peppering the court with her heavy groundstrokes and advancing to the net whenever she had an opportunity.
She lost only 24 points against Maria and concentrated on being consistent and cutting down on unforced errors.
“It was nice to be back out there. Last time I was out there was a great moment, especially internally for me, it was even a better moment,” she added. “I think it was a good match today.”
Not so fortunate was another former World No 1and two-time champion, Victoria Azarenka, who was dumped at the first hurdle after throwing away a one-set lead against Laura Siegemund.
The Belarusian, who has tumbled down the rankings since the birth of son Leo and a messy custody battle afterwards, slumped out 6-7(7) 6-4 6-2.
Well done. Good luck in next round.