Rome | Konta advances with assertive debut win
Jo Konta maintained the great form of the last three weeks, thrashing American Alison Riske, in a matchday that saw the return to winning action of both Williams sisters, who will meet in the second round.
J. Konta (UK, 42) d. A. Riske (USA, 52) 6-4 6-1
Konta appears to have wholly settled into the clay mind-set by now, beating inferior opposition with no more effort than she needs to, as she shew by beating Alison Riske in an hour and 28 minutes without threats from her opponent.
She was well-centred from the get go, earning a couple of break points with a nice backhand combination, displaying a thorough reading of Riske’s serve by hitting a hard cross-court forehand that forced a mistake from the American, for an immediate lead. From then on, she went into cruise control, holding serve with ease (although her first turn went to deuce, but with no break points), and occasionally piercing Riske with her return, such as in the fourth game, when she earned two break points after a great forehand acceleration that ended right on the line. However, Riske served well, and held to stay within touching distance. Konta conceded a break point in the eight game, but exploited her opponent’s uncertainties at the net to pass with a cross-court backhand. Another soon followed, but Konta kicked a high second serve to the American’s advanced court position, sending the game to deuce again. After another chance was saved with a serve to the T, Konta shrewdly heightened her backhand trajectory, eliciting a weak return on which she could hit with her considerable backhand power, and held when Riske misdirected an approach on a lousy drop shot, passing with a forehand down the line.
Riske attempted a comeback in the tenth game as well, as the Brit served for the set, but her fourth break opportunity was deleted by an ace out wide. Riske is a powerful hitter, and often took control of rallies, but Konta, a much better mover, knew how to hurt her, and earned a set point with a good change down the line with her forehand. That first opportunity vanished with a double fault, but the next one was the charm, with two forehands (an inside-out and a cross-court) exposing her adversary’s imperfect footwork.
The second set was a lot less dramatic, as Riske immediately lost her serve with two trivial mistakes, while Konta saved two break points to gain the upper hand. After that, it was game over, and Konta could have even gone up 5-0, if it weren’t for a great forehand passing shot by the American. However, it was deferred payment, for Konta held again and finished with some backhand fireworks, breaking again with an inside-out return winner and a blinding-light shot down the line.
Her next opponent will be seventh seed Sloane Stephens, who just reached the semi-finals in Madrid (and last year was the French Open runner-up), and is a very consistent clay performer, adept at sedating her foes with slow exchanges before suddenly injecting pace, so Konta will have to be aggressive from the beginning in order not to fall for the bait.
S. Williams (USA, 11, seeded tenth) d. R. Peterson (Swe, 64, Q) 6-4 6-2
After missing the Mutua Madrid Open due to the Met Gala in New York City, Serena Williams got back into business with a win against qualifier Rebecca Peterson, who had ironically been her last opponent in Miami, before the 23-time Slam champion was forced to withdraw.
Back in Florida, Peterson had taken a set from Williams, and started Monday’s encounter with the same resolve, taking a 3-1 lead, despite conceding three break points in her opening two service games. Serena looked a little slow and uncomfortable, having admitted that she hasn’t been able to train much in the past few weeks, but rebounded straight away, thanks to a Peterson double fault and a thunderous forehand return that left the Swedish player immobile. Now settled, Williams scored seven points in a row, finding herself 3-3, 0-40. Although her opponent saved the first three chances, the American hit a forehand winner, and broke after an unforced error down the line. She then conceded just one point in her next two service games, calmly closing the set with a 6-4 score.
In the second set, Serena pulled ahead in the third game, as her baseline power game kept wearing down Peterson, who couldn’t even touch her opponent’s serve, progressively fading away, and losing her serve again in the seventh game, when Williams won the best point of the match, beating on Peterson’s forehand, then hitting a swinging backhand and finishing with a short forehand cross-court that utterly wrong-footed the Swedish.
Peterson mounted her comeback attempt in the final game, though, winning a rally for a 15-40 window. However, Williams hit an ace and two winners, one for each baseline stroke, and won after a forehand unforced error in an hour and 16 minutes.
She will now face her sister Venus, who won a battle against Elise Mertens, in what will be their 31st head-to-head.
Aside from Venus Williams’ three hour effort, other results from Monday included a loss for fifteenth seed Wang, as well as wins for two-time semi-finalist Garbiñe Muguruza and 2013 finalist Vika Azarenka:
Y. Putinsteva (Kaz, 38) d. L. Tsurenko (Ukr, 26) 6-4 6-2
K. Siniakova (Svk, 45) d. Q. Wang (Chn, 17, seeded 15th) 1-6 7-5 6-4
D. Cibulkova (Svk, 33) d. A. Sasnovich (Blr, 32) 6-2 6-3
G. Muguruza (Spa, 19) d. S. Zheng (Chn, 46) 6-3 6-4
V. Kuzmova (Svk, 43) d. S. Errani (Ita, 284, WC) 6-1 6-0
A. Tomjanovic (Aus, 47) d. T. Zidansek (Slo, 71, Q) 7-6 (1) 6-4
A. Kontaveit (Est, 16, seeded 15th) d. M. Barthel (Ger, 85, Q) 4-6 6-4 6-4
V. Williams (USA, 50, WC) d. E. Mertens (Bel, 20) 7-5 3-6 7-6 (4)
M. Keys (USA, 14, seeded 13th) d. P. Hercog (Slo, 71) 6-4 7-6 (3)
A. Anisimova (USA, 54) d. E. Cocciaretto (Ita, 779, WC) 6-3 6-3
V. Azarenka (Blr, 51, WC) d. S. Zhang (Chn, 48) 6-2, 6-1