New York | Konta passes Pliskova to face Svitolina in last 8
Johanna Konta is full of surprises and, on Sunday, she pulled off a remarkable comeback win in a three-set thriller to overcome Karolina Pliskova, a player she has had difficulty with in the past, to reach her first US Open quarter-final.
I trust in my ability to create more opportunities and I managed to do that Johanna Konta
It continues her 2019 revival, with her 3rd Grand Slam quarter-final showing in a row, after winning a dramatically fluctuating contest against the 2016 US Open runner-up.
Over the years, Pliskova has been Konta’s nemesis, but she overturned a 1-6 head-to-head deficit in upsetting the No 3 seed, 6-7(1) 6-3 7-5, in 2 hours and 19 minutes.
The tall Czech had looked to be in control of the match, going up a set and a break, but it was Konta who eventually prevailed.
“It was important not to panic or be worried,” Konta said about fighting back.
“I was doing a lot of good things out there, and I kept into perspective I was playing the No 3 player in the world.
“I was pleased with what I was doing in that first set, even though I wasn’t able to come through, and I definitely felt there was a lot for me to build on.
“I trust in my ability to create more opportunities and I managed to do that.”
Oddly, in each of the first two sets, the player who dominated from the outset wound up losing.
Konta roared out of the gates, breaking immediately and dominating much of the run of play in the opening set.
The 28-year-old Brit scored at least 1 break point in Pliskova’s first 4 service games, playing almost error-free first-strike tennis and creating fine angles from the baseline and it seemed only a matter of time before Konta would take one, but the Czech plugged away stolidly to keep within touching distance.
The gulf in the former World No 1’s winning percentage behind her first serve (77%) and second serve (23%) proved to be a crucial statistic.
Her formidable first serve, which garnered her 16 aces, was mostly be too hot for Konta to handle, but the Brit relentlessly punished each and every second serve that came her way.
In the first set, Pliskova found just enough first serves to stave off 9 out of 10 break points, and when Konta suddenly produced a flurry of unforced errors when serving for the set, the 27-year-old Czech seized her opportunity to dominate the tiebreak.
“It’s part of the game to, sometimes, not be able to serve a set out,” Konta observed later. “It’s part of the game to go down a break and come back.
“Equally for her, she could have taken a lot of confidence from being able to come back from 5-3 down, going a break up in that second set.
“I didn’t really get discouraged by it. I was playing against the No 3 player in the world. Nothing is going to be given to me or be easy.
“Being 5-3 up is by no means a guarantee that it’s my right to win that set. I just have to keep working. I felt I did that in that second set, as well, even going a break down.”
Pliskova rode her momentum well into the second, increasing her first serve percentage as Konta began to spray increasingly wild errors.
A bold forehand fired down the line to break gave the Czech a 3-1 lead but, this time, the roles would be reversed as Konta began to find a balance between her spectacular winners and loose mistakes to reel off 5 straight games to level the match, saving 2 break points in the final game with more fierce forehand winners.
Despite Konta’s ostensibly lopsided head-to-head against Pliskova, a closer look at the pair’s previous matches showed that the series might have been closer than it seemed, with 5 of their 7 encounters going to 3 sets while, on hard courts, they were in fact tied at 1-1.
On this occasion, two dramatically fluctuating sets were once again followed by a decider that went down to the wire in a marathon of aggressive tennis in which Konta tallied 45 winners to 36 unforced errors, and Pliskova 36 winners to 39 unforced errors.
Both were dogged in the decider, landing their highest percentage of first serves with the stakes at their highest – Konta at 74% and Pliskova at 76% – and consequently, neither faced a break point through the first 10 games.
It was a question of who would blink first, and eventually it proved to be Pliskova.
Serving at 5-5, the former World No 1 threw in a sloppy game out of nowhere, offering a netted drive volley, a forehand put-away over the baseline and her 9th double fault of the day to leave Konta serving for the match.
The Briton engaged an extra gear off the ground, smacking forehand winners with relish to save a break point and reaching match point, going through on her second opportunity as Pliskova missed the mark with a final forehand.
“To go one step further is a massive achievement for me,” an elated Konta said on court, referring to winning a fourth-round match in Flushing for the first time on her third attempt.
She is willing to stay on court for as long as it takes.
“I don’t think there’s a magic formula to stay until the end of Slams,” she said. “Just as easily I could have lost in the first round – I was playing a great player [Daria Kasatkina].
“Whatever the game asks of me, I’m prepared to be out there and play for as long as I need to – I will either do well or I don’t,” she explained, quick as ever to keep things in perspective.
“I don’t feel any pressure to be out there for a short amount of time. I’m happy to stay out there for a long amount of time.
“I think a lot of matches now, the way they are, there’s a lot of very tough, long battles that a lot of players are having. I feel prepared to be out there if I need to.”
Konta has now reached the last 8 at each of the Grand Slams, as well as notching up 3 such runs in a single season for the first time, plus she is also the first Briton to reach the US Open quarter-finals since Jo Durie in 1983.
“I’m really pleased with that and, more specifically, this season to make it three quarter-finals in successive Grand Slams is a tremendous achievement.
“I will enjoy this but I have to keep looking forward and try to go one, two or three steps further.”
She is getting into the habit of making history and the sense is she just might be making some here in the Big Apple as she joins Durie and Virginia Wade to become the third British player to reach the quarters at all four majors in her career.
A quarter-final against the No 5 seed Elina Svitolina awaits as Konta bids to complete her full house of Grand Slam semi-finals, but she has lost all 4 of her lifetime meetings against the Ukrainian and will be looking to reverse that trend as long as it takes on Tuesday.
In the first match of Sunday’s night session, Elina Svitolina from the Ukraine edged out home favourite Madison Keys, 7-5 6-4, in an electric atmosphere in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Svitolina, the No 5 seed, credited her solid performance to her good serving, footwork and consistency.
“It was a really good performance from me,” Svitolina said in her post-match media conference. “Very solid, I would say, from the beginning until the end.
“I was feeling very good today physically, which helps my game, obviously.
“It’s something that, yeah, very special for me to play in front of so many people. Night session in New York is always very special. To get a win is a special feeling.”
In a battle between two Top 10 players, Svitolina broke through to her first-ever US Open quarter-final, having made the 4th round of the US Open in the last two years.
In 2017 she lost to Keys, and finally went a step further with her 74-minute win over the American, reaching the quarters or better now at all four of the Grand Slam events, with her career-best major result being the Wimbledon semi-finals earlier this summer.
Keys, seeded 10, had defeated Svitolina in their first two meetings, but Svitolina notched her first win over the American in the 4th round of the Australian Open earlier this year, and has now levelled their head-to-head at 2-2.
“I had to take a look to analyse what I did wrong,” Svitolina said, when reflecting on her 2017 US Open loss to Keys. “It was a very tough match that time.
“I was leading in the third set. It was a very, very painful loss for me, that one, [but] I learned a lot, not only for this match but also for the future.
“With these kind of matches [where] you learn is a very painful experience, but I think in the end it helps you to improve your game and the way you have to handle the pressure points.”
Not only was the 24-year-old be able to handle some extreme Keys pace, she also flashed her ability to combat it with equal strength.
The first set started with 10 straight service holds until 5-5, when Svitolina made the crucial breakthrough.
Taking care of her service games easily, not facing a break point in the match, the No 5 seed was able to roll towards the end of the first set, knowing she could rely on her dominant serve.
Keys, who reached the US Open final two years ago and the semi-finals last year, simply was unable to make a dent on Svitolina’s serve.
“I was just trying to stay focused from the first point to the last point,” Svitolina added. “Madison is a very powerful player, so you have to be at your best all the time and react very quickly.
“There was also lots of people, and the night sessions are very intense so you have to bring your best game.
“It happened for me today, and I’m happy that it happened actually in the fourth round, and I’m finally in the quarter-final here.”
Although the American had 32 winners to Svitolina’s 10, Keys also struck 39 unforced errors, outpacing Svitolina’s 13 miscues.
Through the first 5 games of the match, the players refused to give each other an inch, ceding no break points to their opponents.
While the power game of Keys pulled her through her service games, with 5 aces in the opener, Svitolina was up to the task on her own delivery, dropping just 4 points on serve through to 5-all.
It would be Svitolina who held the first big chance of the match, as a grouping of poorly-timed errors from Keys suddenly provided the Ukrainian with the first 2 break points of the evening.
Keys served her way out of both, but a netted backhand by the American gave Svitolina a 3rd chance and she then netted a forehand.
Svitolina had no trouble converting her 1st set point in the next game when Keys sent a backhand wide, pocketing the set 7-5.
She was just as impenetrable on first serve in the second as she had been in the first, and despite Keys walloping some outstanding winners, the American was never able to recover from her deficit.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Svitolina eased to triple match point, and closed out the match following a 3rd straight backhand miscue by Keys.
“I think generally I was serving very good today,” said Svitolina. “I was changing the pace, I was changing the placement very good.
“All the important points at the beginning gave me the confidence after to be more aggressive with my serve.”
Svitlona served so dominantly against Keys that she only dropped a total of 12 points, 2 as double faults, in her 11 service games in the match and won 92 percent of her first-serve points, 36 of 39 points.
Next up for Svitolina will be another player in her very first US Open quarter-final, Johanna Konta, whom she has beaten all 3 times they have played at WTA-level.
“To be fair, they have all been very tough matches,” Svitolina said about her rivalry with Konta. “She’s a very tough opponent.
“She strikes the ball very good, and I have to react very quickly with my feet.
“Like today, I have to stay very solid from the baseline. I know a bit what to expect.
“I have been practicing a little bit with her. I have to step on court and be focused on my game. That’s my goal for the next match.”