Paris | Vondrousova edges Martic to book battle with Konta
Johanna Konta’s opponent in the French Open semi-finals will be Marketa Vondrousova a 19-year-old from the Czech Republic, who reached the last 4 with a big-hitting 7-6(1) 7-5 victory over the No 31 seed, Petra Martic from Croatia on Tuesday evening.
I mean, it's very tough to win these matches and, like, win 7 matches in a row. It's like a dream now, and I'm just very happy Market Vondrousova
The last unseeded teenager who reached the semi-final at Roland-Garros was Jelena Ostapenko, who stormed to he title in 2017 when the left-handed 17-year-old Czech was making her Grand Slam debut on the Paris clay.
“[Ostapenko] did amazing things that year, and she was the same age as me,” Vondrousova said, acknowledging the Latvian’s performance was, and remains, an inspiration.
“I mean, it’s very tough to win these matches and, like, win 7 matches in a row. It’s like a dream now, and I’m just very happy.”
Vondrousova, ranked 38, has yet to drop a set in 5 rounds at Roland-Garros 2019 and, out on Court Suzanne-Lenglen in the damp conditions, she turned around a 0-4 head-to-head record against Martic into a straight sets win.
Landing 71% of her first serves in, Vondrousova fired 29 winners and 23 unforced errors, swinging with her mighty forehand and saving 8 out of 12 break points to limit the damage and mount pressure on Martic, who was also playing for her first Grand Slam semi-final.
The Croat had a similar number of winners as Vondrousova, but many more errors, playing against 8 break points and suffering 5 breaks to send the Czech through and end her best Grand Slam run in the quarters.
After 4 good holds on both sides, the tall Czech blasted a forehand down the line winner that wrong-footed her opponent for a break in game 5, boasting a game full of variety.
Martic pulled the break back in the next game after Vondrousova sprayed a forehand error, levelling the score at 3-3.
The Croat broke again in the 8th game to take a 5-3 lead, but Vondrousova broke straight back and served to level the score at 5-5, neutralising the threat of losing her first set of these championships.
The 31st-seed battled back, however, and seemed poised to take the opener when Vondrousova fell 0-40 down when serving at 5-6, love-40, defending 3 set points with a volleyed winner, a sublime backhand winner and an ace.
“I wasn’t thinking, like, I’m down 3 set points,” she said. “I just tried to focus on my game and play it point by point. It was great.
“I just wanted to play more aggressive. Because she’s a great player and you have to play aggressive to win the point. I think that was the key in the first set.
“It’s very good I beat her in this tournament. I mean, I was waiting for this to happen, like, 5 matches, so it’s great it happened here.”
The momentum stayed with her in the tiebreak, which she took 7-1 courtesy of Martic’s errors and her own clever drop shot and lob combinations.
After 58 minutes, the young Czech had converted 66% of break points compared to Martic’s meagre 28% but she let a 5-2 lead in the second set slip, double-faulting on a match point at 5-3 as nerves kicked in.
Martic, who had taken out top Czech Karolina Pliskova in the 3rd round, was finding Vondrousova a much trickier proposition.
The younger Czech was dominating the affair, winning the last 5 points to take a one-set lead, but she had to hold off a spirited comeback effort from Martic in the second.
Vondrousova raced to a 3-0 lead, breaking in game 2, and taking 12 of the 14 points to open a gap that pushed her closer to the finish line.
Martic broke back in the 5th game when Vondrousova’s forehand landed long, but she dropped the very next game when the Czech demonstrated her backhand skills.
At 5-2 up, Vondrousova squandered a match point with her return, after a great forehand from Martic.
Vondrousova served a woeful double fault on the second in the 9th game, which the Croatian won to put the set back on serve.
Martic eventually cracked on her own serve, fluffing an easy smash and sending a lob long on the 4th match point.
“I was close, and I had 5-2 and match point. I think she played some amazing points,” the Czech said.
“I was trying to play my game and stay focused on every point. I’m just happy I did it.
“I mean, it’s not happening every day, right? I’m just really happy with my game. And it was very tough match for me. I beat her for my first time in my life, so it’s amazing,” Vondrousova, leading a new Czech brigade, told reporters.
Asked to expand on the variety and finesse she brings to the big-hitting aggressive style we associate with the Czech women’s game, she said simply: “It’s fun for me. I’m really enjoying it. I try to serve well, move well. I like drop shots.”
She might have added lobs, for on Tuesday evening, she displayed a near-perfect lob radar.
Vondrousova is just the 4th lefty to advance to the quarter-finals or better at Roland Garros this decade, joining Angelique Kerber and compatriots Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova.
“She played incredible, I think. She definitely deserves to be in the semi-finals. Her whole season shows it, and today was just yet another match, yeah, that proved it,” Martic said in defeat.
“I really fought as hard as I could. I think from the first match here until the last points today I really, yeah, I left it all. From that point of view, I’m really proud of myself and proud of this tournament.
“Of course with her, to be in the quarter-finals, and to lose so close, I felt like I had a chance, but today it wasn’t meant to be on my side.”
Vondrousova is looking to join Safarova as a French Open finalist against No 26 seed Johanna Konta, in a rematch of a three-set quarter-final from a fortnight ago at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
“I played with her twice. I won one time and I lost in Rome,” she said. “She has great form and it’s going to be tough match, but we’ll see.
“In semi-finals, I think anything can happen. I think it’s going to be very tough and great match, and I just can’t wait to play.”
American Amanda Anisimova will look to become the second teenager into the semi-finals on Wednesday when she faces defending champion Simona Halep, the Romania’s 3rd seed, while in the last quarter-final, Ashleigh Barty, the 8th seed from Australia takes on 14th-seeded American Madison Keys.