Johanna Konta put together an assured display of attacking tennis as she comfortably beat Anett Kontaveit 6-4 6-2 to make the Birmingham second round for the sixth time in her career.
The question was always going to be how quickly that the British No.1 would be able to adapt to a brand new surface just a week after her historic semifinal run at the French Open. But she reacted very well, and in truth it was really more of the same of what we had been witnessing since her Fed Cup heroics earlier on in the year, both in Bath and in London.
How Konta won
Konta took the early break lead in the fifth game. She consistently went for her returns and continuously tried to stay on the front foot whenever possible. She did initially lose that break moments later, but recovered incredibly well and it was very straightforward from there. The Estonian obviously posed many problems from the baseline, with her own controlled firepower, but it was the Brit that was regularly able to get the first heavy blow in the rally and ultimately Konta was the player that made a lot more of her opportunities to step in and crunch the second serve returns.
Konta not only excelled from the baseline because of her powerful play, but she continued to show the extra things she’s decided to add to her game. The drop shot worked well throughout, enabling her to take Kontaveit out of a comfortable pattern of play. The Estonian rarely looked as comfortable moving forward as she does from side to side. The Brit’s success rate when searching for the drop shot was very high, and the statistics make for good reading. She hit 20 winners off the ground compared to 19 unforced errors.
It looked and felt like a comfortable outing on a first match back on the grass, but the British No.1 had her say on just how settled she felt out there:
“I mean, I think I’m obviously pleased with my performance in general. I thought it was a consistent performance throughout the match and nothing about it was easy, that’s for sure [smiling].
“But I definitely was pleased even when there were some tight moments in certain games, or certain points, I just enjoyed myself being out there, being on the grass, and just thought I competed, yeah.
“I mean, I wouldn’t say like I’m fully adapted (laughing) by any means. But I think that will come with time and come with matches, but it’s a step in the right direction. It was nice to get some court time on the grass because the girls that maybe have had more time maybe haven’t played as much on the grass because the weather hasn’t been too kind so the fact to be able to play on the grass and play a match, just really happy with that.”
Konta also answered a few questions about her use of the drop shot, which has been a key addition to her game over the course of this season. Sometimes it hasn’t necessarily been a great success and it has taken some time for the Brit to certainly use it to good effect, but now we are starting to see a player that is more confident in going outside of her own comfort zone in order to be a much more complete player out on the court.
“I think more than anything I was just keen to just play the game out here. It is slightly different than the clay, obviously, and the grass asks different things of you. There’s a lot more points which can be a little bit out of your control because it’s a much faster surface and sometimes you are surviving in the point.”
“But I was happy that I was able to just find a way to keep playing, to keep trying to ask questions of my opponent.”
Moving on from the French Open
Another talking point really has been about whether Konta’s level will continue to stay at a nice high level and whether there would be a mental letdown after what went wrong at the conclusion of her French Open stay. She won five good matches, had an incredibly successful clay court season, but there were moments in her semi-final match that could have been handled better on a different day. Someone posed the question to Konta as to how she has digested the final moments in Paris, whether it be in a positive or negative light:
“I think because it’s also longer, it’s a longer period to be in an event. So, in that sense, it can be a bit more draining, emotionally, not necessarily as much physically because you have more time to rest. So, obviously, there’s going to be a bit of a drop-off after and I was quite tired last week and just catching up on just rest and then sleep, really. But, yeah, I think that’s normal more than anything. I don’t think have really spent any time replaying anything about the last match or really any of the other matches. I think — yeah, I mean, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about what ifs, or things like that.
“I thought I did a good job at digesting the good things that I did and learning from the things I want to do more of, or differently next time, and more than anything, I think I came away just really looking forward to keep going and keep enjoying playing the tennis that I’m playing.”
Lastly, Konta discussed whether she truly ever takes a moment or two to really dare to dream for bigger, long-term ambitions rather than always staying in the moment, taking each match as they come and dealing with the short term solutions on a match court. She responded with:
“No, for sure, I definitely think about lifting the big trophies and I dream about winning Slams or making it. No, I think about that all the time. It’s a part of it. It is just when you are in the competition, it’s — your energy, or for me personally my energy is best used in taking care of things that are going to make me happy and make me prepare to compete the best I can in that moment. But of course, no, I think — I started playing when I was a little girl because I dreamt of being No. 1 in the world and winning Grand Slams and that is still why I play.”
Konta now will be dreaming of making the Birmingham third round for the very first time. After another confidence-building win against a very good and dangerous opponent, there’s no reason why she can’t perhaps accomplish her best ever week at this particular tournament. She faces the winner of Jelena Ostapenko vs Iga Swiatek in a couple of days.
Main Photo from Getty