On a significant day for the women’s game in Britain, it was fitting that Johanna Konta achieved one of her most impressive wins in her home town, a year since her incredible rise up the rankings began in this tournament.
A few hours after she was announced as the 17th seed at Wimbledon, Konta reached the quarter-finals of the Aegon International again, wearing down Petra Kvitova in three sets of unrelenting drama.
Mustering the stamina, resolve and class to recover from blowing a 5-2 lead in the first set before beating Kvitova, the world No11 and former Wimbledon champion, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0 in two hours and 14 minutes of topsy-turvy tennis should do wonders for the British No1’s confidence before heading to SW19.
“It’s definitely one of my biggest wins,” Konta said. “She has been a top 10 player or top five player for years. It’s no secret that grass is one of her favourite surfaces.”
The manner of her win was a welcome tonic after Heather Watson withdrew from her doubles match because of the abdominal strain that has troubled the British No2 since the start of the grass season, although it was typical of Konta that she had paid no attention to her newly elevated status at Wimbledon. She is the first British woman to be seeded since Jo Durie in 1984.
It made for a pleasant surprise in her post-match press conference. Konta’s assessment? “Woo!” She was less pleased to discover that her Hungarian father, Gabor, was listening to his team’s draw with Portugal at Euro 2016 in the Centre Court stands.
However, Konta has every reason to be chirpy after dismantling an opponent with serious pedigree on grass. While Kvitova has underperformed this year, the Czech won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, and triumphed in her only previous meeting with the Konta, beating the 25-year-old in the fourth round of the US Open last year.
Konta, who will face either Ekaterina Makarova or Andrea Petkovic for a place in the last four on Thursday afternoon once they finish their rain delayed match (unless the weather intervenes again), has continued to progress since that September evening in New York, reaching the Australian Open semi-final in January and soaring to No18 in the rankings. She was the world No146 this time last year.
Having anticipated that she would have to scramble a lot against the powerful Kvitova, Konta was resilient in the face of an early barrage from the No5 seed.
The first set was a strange affair. Kvitova squandered three break points in Konta’s first two service games and found herself trailing 5-2 after twice dropping her serve because of untimely double faults.
Yet Konta missed a forehand on set point before losing her nerve and then her serve, wilting when Kvitova regained her poise. “Oh Jo!” one unhelpful punter cried as another shot sailed past the line. Kvitova was rampant, winning five straight games to take the set, a blistering forehand return on set point too hot for Konta to handle.
Konta could have folded but she continued to battle, breaking for a 3-2 lead in the second set, and levelled the match despite wasting two set points at 5-4.
Kvitova, wearing strapping on her aching right thigh again, was cooked. “I feel it, which is not a good sign,” she said. “I will do my best to get over it and heal it kind of quicker. I think it will be fine.”
Konta broke with a gorgeous backhand pass in the first game of the third set and the fight had drained from Kvitova long before she pushed a forehand wide on match point.
Kvitova became the latest heavily fancied player to make an early exit and the biggest obstacle in Konta’s path now is Agnieszka Radwanska, though she cannot play the world No3 until Saturday’s final.
Radwanska was magnificent in her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Eugenie Bouchard, slicing, lobbing and dinking her way into the Canadian’s head. The wonderfully deft and measured top seed’s quarter-final opponent is the No12 seed, Dominika Cibulkova, who saw off Kateryna Bondarenko in straight sets.
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