Britain’s Jo Konta played a blinder on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Tuesday, dispatching last year’s finalist Sloane Stephens with such ease that it left commentators and spectators speechless.
Dealing with the super-windy conditions against an opponent like Sloane, I was just pleased to keep her on the back foot a little bit Jo Konta
She played faultless tennis, relentlessly applying pressure on the 7th seed and closing out the quarter-final in 71 minutes, 6-1 6-4, to become the first British woman to reach the last 4 at the French Open semis since Jo Durie in 1983.
Stephens has had good success at Roland Garros over the years, posting a 24-7 record and, by contrast, Konta came into Paris having never won a main draw match on the French clay.
Her run to the quarter-finals as the 26th seed, however, has levelled her out at 4-4 and now she goes up 5-4.
The American has never beaten Konta, losing both their meetings this year, the first in Brisbane in what was her first match of the season and then their Rome tussle, which came on that wildly stacked up day when nearly all the players had to play two matches in one day.
She came into this match, however, the firm favourite following her top quality win over 2016 champion Muguruza in the Round of 16, but Konta had other ideas.
The 28-year-old came through a long protracted opening game in which she had to save a break point at 30-40, which she did confidentently with a good serve out wide.
Stephens saved 4 game points in that opener, but Konta eventually and crucially held.
The American held her service game to 30, and while the Brit routinely made her next delivery for 2-1, Stephens’ forehand was mis-firing and she gave up 2 break point chances for Konta at 15-40, ripping a forehand winner to save the first but a backhand error gave Konta the early lead.
The first break put her 3-1 ahead as Stephens struggled on her serve, and the American was broken again, giving Konta an emphatic lead of 5-1.
The key to Konta’s success was her own serve, after which every ball she struck fell perfectly into place, striking the lines and finding the open court with consummate ease.
By the time she had pocketed the first set in just 32 minutes, Konta had 11 winners against 7 unforced errors, with 1 of 1 break point saved; while Stephens had struck 5 winners over 9 unforced errors, and saved 3 of the 5 break points she faced.
It wasn’t exactly ‘clay court tennis’, with just 2 rallies in that first set lasting over 9 shots, and Konta won both of them, with the average length of rally under 3.5 shots.
The Brit continued her dominant form into the second as Stephens desperately tried to improve, but with Konta’s serve firing on her chosen spots and her return consistently forcing the issue, the American could scarcely muster up an attack.
She was broken immediately again, looking sluggish, and was only rewarded when she held to trail Konta 1-2
Konta scored another love hold, punctuated by her 5th ace of the match and serving at a good 68%, winning 82% of her first serve points and 46% of her second serve points and, thus far, she had only faced just the one break point.
Two back-to-back good service games from Stephens kept her within a break of Konta, but the Brit failed to blink, storming to another impressive love hold.
Konta had not lost a single point on her own serve in the second set, and Stephens was looking understandably dejected.
The American grabbed another quick hold as the clock ticked over the hour mark and, after her error-strewn first set, she had cleaned up her act, hitting 4 winners to 4 unforced errors in the second.
The British No 1 was in the zone, however, delivering a 4th consecutive love service game and finishing it off with her 23rd winner, a perfectly placed and demoralising forehand drop shot.
While Stephens held again, and it was Last Chance Saloon for the American, but there was little she could do and she garnered just one point, an untimely double fault gifted by Konta as the British No 1 fully shut her down after 71 minutes of sublime play, 6-1 6-4.
Into her 3rd Grand Slam semi-final Konta next will play either Petra Martic or Marketa Vondrousova.
She has now reached the semis on all three surfaces, the 2016 Australian Open, 2017 Wimbledon and now in Paris.
“This is my first match on the new Chatrier, and to play the way I did against one of the best players in the world, and to play at the level I did, I feel really proud of myself,” beamed the Brit.
“Dealing with the super-windy conditions against an opponent like Sloane, I was just pleased to keep her on the back foot a little bit.”
If Konta played her best ever tennis to beat Donna Vekic in the 4th round, this was a further notch up from that.
Her challenge was to sustain a level that must have surprised even her, and probably delighted her low-key coach, Dimitri Zavialoff.
“That was one of the best clay court matches – ever,” Chris Evert concluded on Eurosport.
“I could not see this coming. But all credit to Jo Konta. I’m speechless. Not even giving her a glimpse … Jo Konta I take my hat off to you.”
“Playing like this, there isn’t anyone who could beat her.”
The challenge now for Konta is to keep herself in the zone where she is clearly nerveless.