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Brilliant Johanna Konta ends 32-year Slam pain

Paul Newman

Published 26/01/2016

Big hit: Johanna Konta is the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final since Jo Durie in 1984
Big hit: Johanna Konta is the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final since Jo Durie in 1984

Johanna Konta does not know Jo Durie, Sue Barker or Virginia Wade, but the 24-year-old Briton said here that she would "definitely make a concerted effort to find out more about them".

Konta and her predecessors do, after all, form an elite group - they are the only British women in the Open era to have reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

Konta joined that high-achieving club with one of the finest performances yet in her remarkable run over the past eight months.

The highly experienced Ekaterina Makarova has an excellent record at Melbourne Park, having reached the semi-finals last year and the quarter-finals on two previous occasions, but the 27-year-old Russian succumbed to Konta's excellence as the Briton won 4-6 6-4 8-6.

"I think I would have cried at the end, but I'd sweated so much I didn't have anything left," Konta said.

"There was a little bit in the corner of my eyes and I thought: 'Jeez, there's tears coming here'. But there weren't. There was absolutely nothing left.

"When the final shot hit the net and I put my hands up to my face, it was more relief than anything else. There had been so much tension and emotion for so long that the end was just such a release."

Konta is the first British woman to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament since Durie made the last-eight at Wimbledon in 1984.

Durie was also the last Briton to make the quarter-finals here, in 1983. The success of Konta and Andy Murray also means that Britain will have a man and a woman in the last-eight of a Grand Slam in singles for the first time for 39 years. Barker, Robin Drysdale and John Lloyd reached the quarter-finals here in 1977.

It might be tempting fate to suggest as much, but Konta has a wonderful chance to progress even further after China's Shuai Zhang secured a quarter-final meeting with the World No.47 by beating an injured Madison Keys 3-6 6-3 6-3.

Until last week, 27-year-old Zhang had never won a match in 14 appearances at Grand Slams. The World No.133 is the first women's qualifier to reach the quarter-finals here since 1990.

Konta or Zhang, whose head-to-head record stands at one win apiece, will face Victoria Azarenka or Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals.

"I think Shuai Zhang is actually on a bit more of an incredible journey than myself," Konta said. "She's doing unbelievably well."

Even if Konta loses to Zhang, the Briton is expected to climb to No.32 in next week's updated world rankings list, which would be high enough to ensure she would be seeded at Grand Slams. It is an extraordinary rise considering that she was ranked No.147 going into last summer's grass-court season.

However, Konta insisted: "This journey started when I was eight, so we're coming up to 18 years now. I've always said I do not believe in a kind of 'light switch' moment. Everything happens for a reason.

The victory over Makarova was a demonstration of physical and mental strength. Konta was still going strong at the end of three hours and four minutes, which made this the second longest women's match at this year's event.

Konta showed great resilience. She recovered well after losing a first set in which she appeared to be in little trouble until she hit two double faults in the last game.

In the final set, Konta served for the match at 5-4, only for Makarova to go for broke and level at 5-5. However, when the Briton served for the match for the second time at 7-6 she made no mistake.

Durie, who is commentating here for Eurosport, said she would never have believed a year ago that Konta would have been able to deliver such a performance.

"You thought that she was going to break down and the forehand was going to break down and she was going to have some emotional trauma, because that's what we had seen for years," Durie said.

"Now that's gone, and you think that in a crisis she is going to be so stable and secure. I think the locker room knows that. They have seen it and these players, when they go on court, they know she's a threat."

Konta said she would stay level-headed despite her run.

"I'm happy and humbled," she said. "I'm happy with how I was able to handle things and to keep trekking on."

Belfast Telegraph

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