Her right thigh was heavily strapped and the quality of her tennis fluctuated throughout her grinding victory over Timea Babos but few players are as dangerous on grass as Petra Kvitova, a problem that Johanna Konta will not find easy to solve when they meet in the third round of the Aegon International on Wednesday.
It promises to be an intriguing, gruelling contest between two hard hitters as they tune up for Wimbledon and Kvitova, who withstood a sturdy challenge from Babos before beating the Hungarian 6-4, 7-6 in an hour and 47 minutes, wore the smile of an assassin when she was asked about the prospect of taking on Konta in front of a partisan home crowd. Konta, the British No1 and local favourite, does not lack well-wishers in Eastbourne but might need all the support she can get against the world No11, who is always a threat on her favourite surface.
“I hope that I will be able to find some fans who will support me as well,” Kvitova said. “But yeah, I think 90% for her, for sure. It’s probably going to be like Fed Cup, which is OK. If I’m playing home, it’s the same. Unfortunately we don’t have a grass home. But it doesn’t matter.”
A bigger concern than the crowd for the fifth seed is whether her troublesome thigh will bear up against Konta, who had a good workout in her 7-6, 6-1 victory over Lesia Tsurenko in an hour and 48 minutes. “It’s strapped up but getting better,” Kvitova said. “Just protected. It’s better but it’s not great.”
If Kvitova is able to move well, Konta will have her work cut out. For all that the enigmatic Czech has underperformed this year, losing in the second round of the Aegon Classic in Birmingham last week, she cannot be ignored when it comes to tipping a winner at Wimbledon, which she won in 2011 and 2014.
“She plays incredibly well on the grass,” Konta said. “Her results speak for themselves. She has a very aggressive game. She serves well, hits her shots very clean. I’ll definitely have to have my legs on me and really scramble to stay in points when I need to but also look to take my opportunities whenever they arise.”
Their only previous meeting came in the fourth round of the US Open last year, when Kvitova beat the world No18 in two tight sets. Yet Konta’s startling improvement has continued since that September evening in New York and she was content with her slow-burn performance against Tsurenko after disappointing in Birmingham.
“I know how she’s playing well now,” Kvitova said. “I don’t know really how she likes playing well on the grass, so I think that my coach will find out soon.”
The scouting report on Konta is likely to warn that while she was edgy at first against Tsurenko, she was in total control by the end. But Tsurenko’s early feistiness was not a surprise. With much of Monday’s schedule wiped out by the weather, the Ukrainian secured her place in the second round by beating Shuai Zheng of Chinaon Tuesday morning, before returning to face Konta late in the afternoon.
Tsurenko showed some deft touches at the net and impressed with her groundstrokes but the world No42 let Konta off the hook, squandering three break points during the opening exchanges. Konta settled as the first set wore on and dominated the tie-break despite failing to take five break points in the 11th game.
Having taken 69 minutes to establish a lead, Konta whizzed away with the second set, hitting the levels she reached in her breakthrough run to the quarter-finals here last year, and kept British hopes alive after Naomi Broady, Tara Moore and Heather Watson all lost on Monday.
Elsewhere Agnieszka Radwanska, the No1 seed, advanced when Mirjana Lucic Baroni retired while trailing 6-4, 2-1, while Caroline Wozniacki continued her comeback from an ankle injury that forced her to miss Roland Garros by thumping Samantha Stosur, the seventh seed, 6-2, 6-1. “The ankle is feeling good,” Wozniacki, the former world No1, said. “As long as I’m stable and moving well, it feels good.”
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