It was a bad day for the Brits that were in competitive action in the Nature Valley Classic as both Johanna Konta and Heather Watson lost their respective opening round matches.
Watson was playing her first match of the week in Birmingham, with very little form to draw upon, but she was putting in the right performances but coming up short time after time and maybe the lack of confidence of going on that huge losing run played an integral part in the huge moments of the match against Tsurenko.
For lengths of the match, Watson really gave Tsurenko a real scare. The Brit battled away valiantly from the baseline, but Tsurenko is one of the tougher nuts to crack on tour because of her competitiveness from the baseline and due to how hard it is to break down the Ukrainian on any surface. Tsurenko essentially makes her opponent beat themselves in order to get the win and Watson was a good match-up for the Ukrainian because of the uncertainty that Watson sometimes has in her game and in her groundstrokes. Tsurenko mostly backs the ability and understands what she can and cannot do on court. Watson is still trying to find the perfect way to win matches and what brand of tennis will take her to her destination.
Watson competed well to get the back on parity in the first set, but let herself down with a poor tiebreak with a collection of unforced errors proving her downfall in losing the first set. A similar thing occurred in the second set, but when the match-wins have not been coming easy or regularly, it is easy to doubt yourself when the going gets tough and the more assured and calm player on the day came up with a steady level of tennis at the critical and concluding moments of the match, which is how Tsurenko navigated her way through.
Watson was very thoughtful in her defeat and picked up on the things she did well and the things she needs to work on in the near future.
“Yeah, definitely. I felt like I was playing really well today, but every time it was 30-all or a deuce point, I’d just make the same mistake. It wasn’t that I was doing the same thing wrong every time, but it was ended up, like, just clipping the tape and not going over. I just felt like I had so many small chances today and wasn’t able to take any. It was just so frustrating for me. Every time I needed to step up, I didn’t. That first set tiebreak, just really poor tiebreak. Too many mistakes. But at the same time, I have to give her credit. She was just a brick wall in those moments and just stepped her game up.
“Like I’ve said, I’ve been playing well for a long time, but I think that I don’t want to be too negative about it because I was really pleased with my fighting spirit, especially with the way I served. But I felt like once I start taking those points, a match can change completely the other way. I can see that match going, yeah, just the complete other way in my favor or it can be close like that.”
Johanna Konta lost her opening round to defending champion Petra Kvitova in what was a very tight match, but it was Kvitova who often found the lines and constructed her aggressive game very well in the telling moments. There were moments of the match which could have really turned, but Kvitova applied lots of pressure off the return and made sure the match was played at her pace, with her deciding the outcome of most of the points, which often puts Konta in an unfamiliar situation to deal with.
Konta praised Kvitova and spoke highly of her game, the way she played and the control she has on a match simply by her presence on the court.
“I mean, going out there today, I knew I was going to be playing an in-form Petra and there was going to be a very small chance that she was going to go off. I think for 90% of the match I was actually quite shoulder to shoulder with her, which was a very positive thing for me. I think that that 10% is what I’m working on right now, to be able to do just that bit better and, yeah, to come through in some of those close moments.”
There was a game at 4-4 in the second set, where Konta finished the game with two big double faults to give away the break and that was the end of the match in terms of a contest.
“I think I did a lot of good things, which is more of what I want to be taking from the match. I don’t want to be double-faulting twice in a row. However, she puts a lot of pressure on you when she’s returning. She has a very big presence. She’s a tall girl and she hits big. I think that’s also credit to her, how she was returning and how she was playing as well. But, yeah, I like to think I’m stronger than that as well, and that’s what I’ll continue to work on. Yeah, but I think overall I asked a lot of questions on her service games as well and I think I returned quite well. So that’s a big positive for me because she’s a big server and she served well.”
Kvitova was mainly very positive with a first match back on the grass, which she thrives upon and was pleased to come through a match against a top player on this surface in her first match back at Birmingham. The two-time Wimbledon champion discussed what was pivotal in her win today.
“For sure my second serve. I think with the slice from a lefty, it’s always kind of challenging for the opponent. The first serve sometimes was good, sometimes not really. But I think when we played kind of rally, I think it was like me who was dominating a little bit. With the depth of the ball, that’s why I try to put long balls, which I think Jo had a few troubles. I know how it is when she put me long balls. It was in the grass, so there’s a few things that should be more focusing on.”
That is now the 6th win in a row for Kvitova at this tournament. She comes into this tournament with very different expectations and feelings overall. Last year she returned for her 2nd tournament on her comeback and had no real ambitions to win the event, but blasted her way to the title like only Kvitova can. Now she has added pressure, but when Kvitova puts together her grass-court game, she has that ability to power through the pressure to win big on this surface.
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