Johanna Konta continues to confound her dwindling collection of doubters, not to mention some illustrious opponents, the latest of them the garlanded Venus Williams.
This was the American’s 16th appearance in the main draw of the Australian Open, Konta’s first, but the British No 1, ranked 47 in the world, could hardly have looked more commanding in beating the eighth seed 6-4, 6-2 in just an hour and 19 minutes on day two at Melbourne Park.
Konta, who was born in Sydney and competed as an Australian until 2012, said later: “When the draw came out and I saw who I was playing, I thought, ‘OK, hope I stay out there for more than an hour.’”
She did. By 19 minutes – but it was her opponent who left despondent.
Konta, though, did have earlier cause to be concerned about her assignment. Only Williams’s sister Serena, Tamarine Tanasugarm and Daniela Hantuchova among active players have appeared in this tournament as often as Venus Williams – who had won 45 of her 60 previous matches here and is the oldest player in the draw at 35.
But it was 24-year-old Konta who looked as if she owned the place on her debut in the Rod Laver Arena, hitting the ball with the same assurance that propelled into the top 50 last season, and securing her fourth win over a top-10 player.
Williams – who beat her in the quarter-finals in Wuhan last year - joins Elena Makarova (8), Garbine Muguruza (9) and Simone Halep (2) in feeling the power of Konta’s steady tennis. She is confident, sure-footed in the shot and single-minded under pressure, owner of a game built on the solid foundation of a reliable and penetrative serve.
With her third ace, swinging seductively down the middle and away, Konta took the first set.
In the second, she kept her foot down and there was nothing the American could do – until she blocked Konta in the sixth game, serving for the match and a rare bagel. Rejuvenated, by her break, Williams held to love to make the numbers look semi-respectable.
Konta had to steady herself serving for the match, slaughtering a volley, forced to save two break points then finishing the job with a serve that Williams could only billow the net.
All in all, it was a mightily impressive performance, the sort of win to encourage belief that Konta really can go deep in this draw.
Some context embellishes Konta’s achievement. Having struggled with illness for years, Williams found some of her old form to return the top 10 for the first time in five seasons last year, winning three titles, and arrived with legitimate hopes of at least reaching the second week here. In two previous visits here, Konta failed to get out of the qualifying tournament.
But she is not the hesitant player she was then, a run of 20 wins in 23 matches last summer lifting her to a career-high 47 in the world. She has got out of the first round twice in nine slam appearances, and looks in good shape to go further here.
After the disappointing exit of Heather Watson on Monday, Konta carries British hopes on her own now – and she does not look burdened by the responsibility.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell in Melbourne, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 19th January 2016 05.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010