UC News

Resurgent Johanna Konta into Italian Open final after fightback against Kiki Bertens

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Resurgent Johanna Konta into Italian Open final after fightback against Kiki Bertens
Konta is the first British finalist in Rome since Virginia Wade in 1971

After a hesitant couple of years, Johanna Konta has rediscovered the verve and self-belief that once made her a grand-slam contender. In Rome on Saturday, Konta overcame Kiki Bertens – who stands as high as No. 4 in the rankings – to reach the final of one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments.

With Sir Andy Murray still rehabbing his metal hip, British tennis has had little to shout about since Kyle Edmund reached the semi-finals of last year’s Australian Open. So this was a welcome fillip. After Saturday's courageous 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Bertens, Konta now stands on the verge of a Premier Five title – a feat that would compare with her capture of the Miami Open in the spring of 2017.

Should she succeed on Sunday, it would arguably be the most remarkable achievement of her career. No matter how loudly Konta downplays her former struggles on this surface, she has never previously managed more than five wins in the entire clay-court swing, while her record at Roland Garros remains a blank: four defeats from four matches.

So nobody would have seen Konta, ranked No. 42 at the beginning of this event, as a major threat. She simply lacked the pedigree, even after a strong run to the final of Rabat a fortnight ago.

The factor of surprise has thus made Konta’s campaign even more remarkable. Her tournament really caught light on Thursday, when almost every player was required to play two matches to help recover the time lost to Wednesday’s bad weather. She began the day by sneaking through a tight three-setter against Sloane Stephens – last year’s runner-up at Roland Garros – and then added another famous scalp, only three hours later, when she swept past Venus Williams in just 72 minutes.

Credit: REUTERS

Friday saw her outlast Marketa Vondrousova in another three-setter, and on Saturday she had to take the scenic route yet again. One impressive aspect of this latest win was that Konta finished the stronger, even though Bertens had been granted a day off on Friday thanks to the withdrawal of world No. 1 Naomi Osaka with a hand injury.

The quality of the hitting was high from the outset. Bertens was more ambitious in her serving – striking ten aces in the match to Konta’s one – but she often found herself on the defensive once the rallies began, retreating several metres behind the baseline. Konta exploited this positioning with a series of clever drop-shots, a new skill she has introduced to her game in recent months. One of them caught Bertens so unawares that she lost her footing and crashed to the ground.

Bertens was coming off the biggest title of her own career in Madrid last week. Surfing a wave of nine straight wins, she recently became the highest-ranked Dutchwoman in history. And on Saturday, she showed her spirit and resolve by reeling off three straight games to claim the first set. This was a big turnaround, for Konta had served for the set at 5-4, only to be comprehensively broken.

Yet Konta did not let her head drop. She kept pace throughout the second set, and a crucial piece of luck came to her aid as she served with the score standing at 4-5, 30-30. When Konta miscued a smash for a fluky winner, it seemed to frustrate Bertens beyond measure.

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

You could understand why. Had the ball flown just an inch or two further off the frame of Konta’s racket, rather than landing flush on the sideline, Bertens would have had match point. Instead she suffered a mental implosion and was always second best from then on.

There was even a moment when Bertens could have been defaulted. Konta claimed a 3-1 lead in the deciding set with a huge crosscourt forehand– one of 38 clean winners she struck in the match. Bertens responded by hurling her racket desperately after the ball, and it clattered straight into the official who was monitoring the baseline. Fortunately for her, he was not particularly bothered, and the incident was tactfully written off as an accident.

You have to go back to 1971 for the last time a British woman reached the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. That was Virginia Wade, then a 25-year-old still seeking her first major title. Wade came away as a straight-sets winner, and on Sunday we will discover whether Konta can follow suit.

Once the first women’s semi-final had concluded, Rafael Nadal came out for his own meeting with Stefanos Tsitsipas, the exciting Greek 20-year-old who had beaten him in Madrid last week. This time, it was a very different story. Nadal continued a reassuringly dominant week with a 6-3, 6-4 victory, and will on Sunday enter the men’s final in search of his first title of the season.

READ SOURCE
Open UCNews to Read More Articles