Johanna Konta slams 'tiring' schedule controversy facing female stars after French Open semi-final defeat played on third court
Johanna Konta's hopes of reaching a first ever grand slam final are over after a straight sets semi-final defeat to Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova at the French Open.
This appeared a golden chance for Konta to become the first British woman to win a slam singles title since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977, but she let winning positions in both sets slip away and went down 7-5 7-6 (2).
In the end it was 19-year-old Vondrousova who showed the greater composure, coming back from 5-3 down in both sets.
The first set was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Konta, who had three set points at 5-3 only to lose four games in a row.
However, it was the scheduling and venue of the game that grabbed the post-match headlines as the players, in a grand slam semi-final, took golf carts out into the botanic gardens, where a disappointingly sparse crowd had gathered for the hastily-arranged contest on Court Simonne Mathieu.
Konta said she was surprised when she saw the schedule, and said of the decision to play the match on Roland Garros' third court: "I think the way it looks probably speaks for itself more than anything."
Asked if she felt like she was playing in a slam semi-final, Konta said: "In terms of the surrounding and the occasion, probably not."
Steve Simon, the CEO and chairman of the WTA, put out a statement on Thursday describing the schedule as "inappropriate and unfair".
Konta added: "I think more than anything, what is tiring and what is really unfortunate is that female athletes have to sit in different positions and have to justify their scheduling or their involvement in an event or their salary or their opportunities.
"And I think to give time to that is even more of a sad situation than what we found ourselves in today in terms of the scheduling.
"I don't want to sit here and justify where I'm scheduled. That's not my job. My job is to come here and entertain people, and I feel I did that. And I feel I gave people who paid for tickets every opportunity to enjoy their French Open experience.
"And if the organisers do not feel that is something that can be promoted and celebrated, then I think it's the organisers you need to have a conversation with, not me."
On the match itself, the sense of what could have been was heightened by the fact that this was a different scenario from her two previous semi-finals given Konta found herself, remarkably, as the most experienced player left in the tournament.
"There is nothing for me to be disappointed in or upset about," she said. "I lost a tennis match, but I also won five. I can only take the good things from that.
"Because even today, I lost the match but I did the best that I could and I'm proud of that effort. I'm proud of that achievement in itself. So I can only look forward to playing at Wimbledon and the tournaments before that."
Vondrousova had never been beyond the fourth round at a slam before and her nerves were obvious in the first game with back-to-back double faults, while Konta clinched the break with a backhand winner down the line.
By the time Vondrousova won her first point, Konta had already won 10, but the British player let her opponent off the hook by placing a forehand wide of the open court and that settled the Czech down.
The threatened rain mostly held off but wind was whipping the clay off the court, something that Sloane Stephens felt had helped the aggressive game of Konta in their one-sided quarter-final.
Vondrousova is an excellent mover, though, and Konta was finding it much harder to hit through her than she had Stephens.
After dropping serve and then immediately regaining her break, Konta looked to have the set in her control when she brought up two set points at 3-5.
The drive volley that she blazed long and wide on the first will surely appear in her nightmares, and that set the tone for what followed.
Konta missed the next chance, too, and then another, and began to make poor tactical decisions, getting sucked into playing Vondrousova's game instead of trusting her own.
Konta was unable to serve out the set, and was then broken again to lose it, leaving a Vondrousova lob that landed on the baseline.
Under coach Dimitri Zavialoff, Konta has regained the mental composure that was so striking when she hit a high of fourth in the rankings two years ago.
Underneath, though, the 28-year-old is of a nervous disposition and it was not surprising that it was bubbling to the surface on this high-pressure occasion.
Konta desperately needed a good start to the second set and she made it, stopping the run of games against her at five and then breaking for a 2-1 lead.
She found herself in the same position as she had in the opener, this time serving at 5-4 to take the match to a decider, but again she was unable to overcome the tension.
A double fault handed the break to Vondrousova and moments later Konta was serving to stay in the match.
She at least managed to force a tie-break this time but the tactical surety that she had shown during the rest of the tournament was missing.
That was to take nothing away from her opponent, who played like the more experienced competitor and clinched a place in her first slam final with a typically precise backhand drop shot.
In the final, Vondrousova will play eighth seed Ashleigh Barty, who overcame a remarkable first-set collapse to defeat 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova 6-7 (4) 6-3 6-3.
Anisimova won just three points in the first five games but turned things around to win six games in a row and then take the set on a tie-break.
The young American, who had knocked out defending champion Simona Halep in the quarter-finals, then moved into a 3-0 lead in the second set only to lose six games in a row.
The decider was less wild but it was Australian Barty who proved just the stronger to progress to her first grand slam singles final.
Belfast Telegraph Digital