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Tennis From Roland Garros • French Open • Paris Jo Konta Beats Sloane Stephens

Johanna Konta of Britain (R) shakes ahdns with Sloane Stephens of the USA after winning their women?s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2019. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG
Johanna Konta of Britain (R) shakes hands with Sloane Stephens of the USA after winning their women’s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2019. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

 

 

By Alix Ramsay

 

When Chris Evert says that it was a good match, you have to sit up and take notice. But not only did the seven-time French Open champion think Johanna Konta’s demolition of Sloane Stephens was good, she thought it was one of the best clay court matches ever played.

 

Konta – the woman who had never won a main draw match at Roland Garros in four previous attempts – took just 70 minutes to crush last year’s finalist 6-1, 6-4. She was strong, ruthless, totally focused and utterly dominant. She dropped just one point on serve in the second set – a double fault as she served for the match – and she dropped just five points on her first serve throughout the match.

 

Sloane Stephens of the USA plays Johanna Konta of Britain during their women?s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2019.  EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI

Sloane Stephens of the USA plays Johanna Konta of Britain during their women’s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2019. EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI

She made Stephens look like a beginner: the US Open champion of 2017 did not have a clue what to do. Then again, she was not allowed to do anything – Konta had her on the ropes from the start and she never stopped pounding her rival until the final point.

 

“That was one of the best clay court matches – ever,” Evert said on Eurosport. “I could not see this coming. But all credit to Jo Konta. I’m speechless. Not even giving her a glimpse… Jo Konta I take my hat off to you. Playing like this, I don’t think there is anyone who could beat her.”

 

Then question is, can Konta do that twice more in order to lift the trophy? The current evidence seems to suggest that she is more than capable of turning out another performance like that. We all thought she looked good against Donna Vekic on Sunday but then she moved up another gear to face Stephens in the quarter-final. Now she is in her third grand slam semi-final (the other two were the Australian Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017) and seems calmer, happier and more at ease than at any other time in her career. And a happy Jo-Ko is a dangerous Jo-Ko.

 

“I’ve always said that whenever I step out onto the court, I’m always going to have a chance,” Konta said. “I’m always going to have a shot. I don’t think any player on tour can go on court against me and feel like they’ve definitely got it.

 

“I definitely back myself and my ability that way. But then I also accept a lot of things: that it’s not all on my racket. I also accept that my opponent has a say in things out there, as well.

 

“More than anything, I’m enjoying just playing that game out there.”

 

In the past, Konta had a plan and stuck to it religiously, no matter what. Even if that plan left her banging her head against a brick wall, she would never waver from the “process”. At first, that dogged insistence on sticking to her guns, combined with her thumping groundstrokes, blew people away but then the rest of the field worked out what Konta was up to. She became predictable and, consequently, beatable.

 

From the dizzy heights of world No.4 after her Wimbledon run two years ago, she dropped to No.50 in the world last July. Just last month, as she began her clay court run, she was still down at No.47. As of her win over Stephens, she was back up to No.17 and rising with every round.

 

The difference is that Britain’s No.1 is now allowing herself to go off-piste during matches. Her coach, Dimitri Zavialoff, is encouraging her to think for herself, to take note of the opposition and their foibles and react accordingly. She has more variety in her game, she has more armour-plating around her confidence and nerve and she is gathering momentum with every set she spends on the red clay courts.

 

“It’s just showing her how good she is and to invite her to try,” Zavialoff said. “To try and miss sometimes and sometimes try and achieve something.

 

“I really don’t want to control anything in there; the one main thing for me is that the player is playing, it’s not the coach. The coach is helping from time to time – and a good collaboration is highly needed – so I think that she feels comfortable with that at the moment and she likes it.

 

“I think she obviously is a very good player, I would even say a fantastic player and she shows it. Now if she can express it, the evolution is there.”

 

Johanna Konta of Britain plays Sloane Stephens of the USA during their women?s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2019.  EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI

Johanna Konta of Britain plays Sloane Stephens of the USA during their women’s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 04 June 2019. EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI

As for Jo-Ko, she appears to be enjoying every second of the ride. Once a fraught, tense worrier, an over-thinker in the worst possible way, she is now “accepting” (her latest buzz word) of everything that happens, win or lose. And the results have been outstanding. The sheer quality of her play against Stephens took everyone by surprise. Everyone but Konta and Zavialoff that is.

 

“It’s definitely one of my best performances,” Jo-Ko beamed. “I mean, it’s hard to pinpoint what is the best performance, because you’re always dealing with different types of opponents or different types of conditions. Or even if you’re playing the same opponent, it’s still going to be a different match.

 

“I definitely thought I played well behind my serve more than anything, and kept a good variety in there, which I think made it also difficult for Sloane to find her rhythm in those games. But, yeah, I think overall I just played a good match.”

 

Not just a good match. Not even a great match. It was one of the best matches ever on clay. Well, it was according to Chris Evert.

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