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Konta can go all the way and land first Slam: Durie

 

Top of game: Johanna Konta on way to last eight win over Sloane Stephens
Top of game: Johanna Konta on way to last eight win over Sloane Stephens

By Eleanor Crooks

Jo Durie has told Johanna Konta to relish her opportunity to reach a first Grand Slam final at the French Open.

Konta's stunning victory over Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals on Tuesday made her the first British woman since Durie in 1983 to make it through to the last four in Paris.

Should she beat Czech 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova tomorrow, she would go one better than Durie and become the first woman from these shores to reach the final since Sue Barker, who won the title in 1976.

If Konta can maintain the form she showed against last year's runner-up Stephens in a 6-1 6-4 drubbing, then she will certainly be hard to stop.

"It was absolutely fabulous, the way she played and went about it," Durie said.

"Her serving was tremendous. She looked totally in the zone."

This will be Konta's third Slam semi-final after defeats at the Australian Open in 2016 and Wimbledon two years ago, but the first where she is the favourite, albeit marginal against one of the season's in-form players.

Defending champion Simona Halep stands out on the other side of the draw but, as Jelena Ostapenko showed here two years ago, favouritism can count for little in the women's game.

And Durie sees no reason why Konta cannot be the latest outlier to come through and lift the trophy.

"No reason at all," she said. "She's beaten her opponent. They're going to be nervous because what an opportunity to get to the final of a Slam.

"It might be slightly different pressure for her compared to her other semis, but what an opportunity and she's just got to relish it. By the time you get to a semi-final, you're playing well, you're feeling good, carry on."

As well as their nationality, there are distinct similarities between Konta and Durie's runs here given neither had ever done well at Roland Garros before.

Durie, who eventually lost to Mima Jausovec in the last four, said: "I remember playing Pam Shriver on Chatrier. She slightly twisted her ankle. I won the first set, I was going around to play the second and she suddenly shook hands with me. Great.

"Then I played Kathy Rinaldi, who was younger than me and thought of as the next great American player. We had an absolute humdinger of a match. I really enjoyed it and played quite well in the crunch points. Then I'd got to the quarter-final to play Tracy Austin, and I was like, 'Oh my God, this is amazing'.

"I was discussing it with my coach, Alan (Jones), he said you're going to need to use your slice today against Tracy and try and break that forehand down. And in the end her forehand did break down in that final set, so there I was suddenly in the semis - 'wahey, I love clay'.

"I thought I played pretty well in the semi-final, I was a set and a break up. I just thought she had that clay-court edge on me and in the end I couldn't quite get through her."

Durie also reached the US Open semi-finals that year and the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, while the following year she made the last eight at Wimbledon and hit a high of fifth in the rankings.

Konta has matched or bettered all of those aside from the US Open, but there is no bitterness from Durie at seeing her records fall.

"It's funny to me that some people go, 'Ooh, are you a bit jealous?'," she said. "Not at all. It's been long enough. Thirty-six years is long enough. It's really nice to see someone else coming through and talking about them and remembering what I went through."

Konta and Vondrousova have met twice before, with the teenager winning in Indian Wells in 2018 and Konta coming out on top in Rome last month. While that will give the British player confidence, Vondrousova was not physically at her best.

There is no doubt the 19-year-old is a star in the making, and her varied game has seen her twice claim the scalp of Halep this year.

Konta said: "There is always an adjustment period, always going to be things you look to do against a specific opponent.

"But keeping in mind that there's things that I do well, which are effective against everyone, and just finding that right balance of when I can do that and when I need to add something else. She's playing very good tennis."

And Billie Jean King believes Konta is a better player than when she reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

"I think anyone can win in women's tennis right now," she said. "It's such a toss-up. Every time we talk among ourselves, 'Who's going to win?', it's like, 'We don't know'. Whoever is playing well that week.

"And Konta is playing the best I've probably ever seen her play except for when she had that run at Wimbledon. But I think she's actually better now.

"I think her concentration is better day in and day out. I feel like some days she gets like too hyped up and she seems to be very calm right now.

"She's quite clear now in her thoughts in what she wants to do and she just keeps improving. Because she wants to. You can tell she wants to keep improving.

"She's really concentrating well and she's hitting so big - her serve's big, her ground strokes are big.

"She's totally focused right now. She just has to stay on, stay the way she is."

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