Rome | Konta reaches semi-finals, will play Bertens
Birthday girl Jo Konta earned her best result ever on clay, beating Vondrousova to reach the top four, while the demands of Thursday’s double fixtures reaped another victim in world No.1 Naomi Osaka, who was forced to withdraw from her match against Kiki Bertens. Pliskova and Sakkari also advanced.
J. Konta (UK, 42) d. M. Vondrousova (Cze, 44) 6-3 3-6 6-1
On her 28th birthday, Jo Konta managed to get back into the seeding area for the Slams by beating the Young Marketa Vondrousova in an hour and 53 minutes.
The left-handed Czech is a powerful baseliner, very used to the slow surface (she has the final in Istanbul last month), and had wowed the crowd with her win against Halep on Thursday, so Konta needed to move her around as much as possible in order not to let her seize control. Moreover, Vondrousova had stayed on court for four hours and 25 minutes the previous day, so it could be guessed that she would be somewhat tired.
Konta did just that, pinning her to the corners and employing the drop shot with frequency, eliciting a forehand mistake to earn an immediate break point, which Vondrousova saved with a hard body serve, holding in the first game after seven-plus minutes, finishing with a drop shot winner that sent her opponent swimming on the dirt. The Czech was aggressive right away on return herself, shooting a backhand right at Konta, forcing a break point. The Brit took the initiative, and hit a two-hander down the line on approach to finish at the net, thus managing to square things.
A tilt in the balance was in the air anyway, and Konta was able to strike first, going to 0-40 behind a monster winner with her cross-court backhand followed by a double fault. Vondrousova saved the first with an effortless forehand down the line, but conceded after another penetrating cross-court backhand by the Brit, sending her recovery into the net and finding herself 2-1 down. The rest of the set was actually uneventful, as Konta didn’t conceded further break points, consummately administering her lead. Vondrousova had coaching time-out after the fifth game, but the closest she could get was a deuce in the eighth game, which Konta untangled with a serve&forehand combination and an ace to the T, often targeting the backhand with her first shot. She then opened the next game with an instinctive forehand return winner, building on it with another deep return that smudged the baseline, putting her opponent off, and surging to a triple set point when Vondrousova hit an easy drive volley into the net, winning the opening set with another backhand return followed by an approach and a delicate forehand stop-volley – she served a very high 74% of first serves in, while her opponent was at 50%, and hit 19 winners.
Vondrousova didn’t back down though, and got an early break chance, thanks to a double fault. Konta survived with a good reaction to a forehand return, forcing the Czech to miss on the run, and held with two strong serves. The youngster, however, started to find her first serve, rising to 64% in play, hitting two early aces, surviving a double deuce to level at 2-2, and breaking in the ensuing game, when her impressive forehand backswing generated enough power to thwart Konta’s resistence to her body shots, opening up double opportunity which she immediately seized with her best shot of the day, a passing forehand down the line on a deep but feeble approach by JK. The rest of the set was the mirroring replica of the opener, with both players holding quickly and a final break in the ninth game, when Vondrousova hit a magnificent slice lob on approach off a short volley from Konta, and taking the 6-3 with an easy forehand approach miss by the Brit.
However, the decider was surprisingly anti-climatic, as Vondrousova, likely depleted by the previous day’s demands, blacked out after a break opportunity in the second game, losing the final six games. Konta took the most extreme of risks on that break point, hitting a backhand down the line that just as much caressed the sideline, and it was ultimately her more pro-active attitude that gave her the decisive thrust – she finished with 42 winners and 30 net approaches.
Vondrousova’s collapse was immediate, as she double faulted twice in the third game, the second one coming on a break point that gave Konta a 2-1 lead, quickly backed up with a hold. The Czech couldn’t push anymore on her serve, and Konta took the cue to hit more backhand returns, earning three separate break points in the fifth game, and ultimately taking the leap with one more two-hander. The match finished with Vondrousova completely spent and immobile, as Konta hit a cross-court forehand to gain two match points, finishing with a Vondrousova forehand error after a long rally. She will now be put to arguably the nastiest exam on clay, facing Madrid champion Kiki Bertens, who profited from Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal.
In other matches, Karolina Pliskova outlasted the resurgent Vika Azarenka, while Maria Sakkari did the same in a qualifiers derby against Kiki Mladenovic:
K. Pliskova (Cze, 7, seeded 4th) d. V. Azarenka (Blr, 51, WC) 6-7 (5) 6-2 6-2
M. Sakkari (Gre, 39, Q) d. K. Mladenovic (Fra, 63, Q) 5-7 6-3 6-0