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Wimbledon Day 3 | Konta survives marathon thriller

Jo Konta reduced Donna Vekic to tears as she reached the third round of Wimbledon for the first time following an epic 3hr.10min Centre Court battle in blazing sunshine.

We were out there for a long time. We both battled hard. Whoever came out holding the short straw would be hurting Jo Konta

The sixth seed and British No.1, after her successful sixth attempt to make the last 32, is aiming for title glory by becoming the first home player to lift the most famous ladies’ singles’ trophy in the world since Virginia Wade in 1977.

Konta, tipped as a contender by three-time winner Chris Evert, said: “I’ve definitely come here with the intention of being part of the event for the whole two weeks. I’ll give it my all.”

In emotional scenes at the end, Konta hugged her vanquished foe with Vekic resting  her head on the British No.1’s shoulder apparently crying as the crowd gave both players a standing ovation.

Konta edged home 7-6 4-6 10-8 in an absorbing encounter which had the experts praising  the quality and drama as well as the sheer guts of both players.

It was rated in some circles as the hors d’oeuvre to the main course, Andy Murray’s second round showdown with Dustin Brown, which immediately followed.

But it more than satiated the biggest of appetites as Konta secured a date against world No.101 Maria Sakkari of Greece.

And it also meant that there were two British women in the main draw for the first time since Jo Durie and Anne Hobbs achieved in the 1980s, with Heather Watson having won through earlier to meet Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, returning from giving birth to her first child.

With flying ants swarming around one of the most famous sporting arena’s in the world, Konta struggled to swat her Croatian foe.

Vekic was cheered on by boyfriend Stan Wawrinka, the men’s fifth seed who suffered a shock first-round exit.

But Konta refused to be bowed by her rival, her supporters and the insects as she claimed a revenge victory on an opponent who had recently beaten her in the Nottingham final, another marathon which had lasted two-and-a-half hours.

Konta said: “It’s a nice feeling not have to keep going. We were out there for a long time. We both battled hard. Whoever came out holding the short straw would be hurting.

“I trusted my game a bit more than last time we played. We both played better. Quality was very high. Her serve was very difficult to return. Very happy to have saved a couple of break points.

“I’m looking to compete at my best. I’ve given myself another opportunity. The crowd were incredible and showed so much respect to Donna.”

The efforts of both players earned praise from 12-time Grand Slam champion Billie Jean King.

She tweeted: “Take a bow @JoKonta91 & @DonnaVekic. Was an absolute pleasure watching both of you leave it all on the court. Way to go for it!”

World No.7 Konta, 26, knew she would be up against it given that landmark victory for Vekic, ranked 58, at the Aegon Open.

Konta gave little away with her body language. Just getting on with business. Reminiscent of Bjorn Borg, the master of the ‘non-expression’, although she did allow herself just a small fist pump after sealing a game.

It was an emotional loss for Vekic

David Musgrove photography

In contrast the fair-skinned, blonde Croatian displayed frustration with shrugs and other gestures as her face reddened with the sun beating down.

The home favourite also met fire with fire against an aggressive opponent, taking chances to do so.  Refusing to be intimidated.

And her mental strength appeared stronger, with Vekic revealing brittleness when serving out for the first set, twice double-faulting.

Konta levelled at 5-5 and took the opener into a tiebreak which she edged while saving two set points.

The Sussex-based ace, anxious to keep the momentum building, was forced to wait at the start of the second set as Vekic took a SEVEN-MINUTE timeout to visit the changing room.

And her opponent promptly broke her when the set eventually began.

Vekic started to execute drop shots with effect as she kept her nose in front and served out to level the match.

Again the visitor took a timeout and a punishing deciding set began with Konta holding the first game this time.

It was a toe-to-toe slugfest with class which enthralled Centre Court, politely urging Konta on while not wishing to be discourteous to the Croatian. Neither competitor was giving an inch.

When Konta maintained her lead in the set at 7-6, neither rival had been broken in it.

There were chants of ‘Let’s go, Johanna, let’s go’ as she sought to seal the match on the Vekic serve for a third time.

But her opponent refused to go away. It was the same again on the fourth occasion.

Finally, at the fifth time of asking, Vekic conceded. Just.

The prelude was a sensational high backhand winner from an airborne Konta to make it 0-30. Two points away. But Vekic clawed the points back before the Brit finally earned a match point.

Vekic saved it with an ace. A forehand pass gave Konta a second match point. This time she took it as the Croatian drove a forehand long.

The epic was over.




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