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Konta is retaining focus as she joins title mix

 

Powering on: Johanna Konta at full stretch
Powering on: Johanna Konta at full stretch
Barbora Strycova

By Eleanor Crooks

Johanna Konta positioned herself as a title contender at Wimbledon by knocking out two-time former champion Petra Kvitova to reach the quarter-finals for the second time.

Two years after letting British fans dream of a first home female singles champion since Virginia Wade with her run to the semi-finals, Konta is once again into the latter stages.

The 28-year-old recovered from a set down for the second successive round to beat Kvitova 4-6 6-2 6-4 and will face another Czech, unseeded Barbora Strycova, in the last eight today.

Seventh seed Simona Halep is the highest-ranked player left, but Konta rejected the idea that this is a golden opportunity, saying: "Every person that's still in the draw, there's a reason why they're still in the draw. The eight best players of this tournament are still playing."

There had been major doubts about Kvitova's fitness prior to the tournament, with the 29-year-old not having played since before the French Open because of a left forearm problem.

But she had won her first three matches in straight sets and came out firing on Centre Court.

Kvitova is one of the purest strikers of a tennis ball on tour and she crunched 11 winners in the first five games. She then saved two break points at 4-4 with strong serving before breaking Konta to win the opening set.

But Konta changed the momentum immediately with a break to start the second set and was quickly 4-0 up.

Kvitova was making a lot more errors and Konta was ruthless, winning five games in a row to lead 5-1 in the decider.

Things became decidedly nervy when Kvitova claimed three games in a row to get back to 5-4, saving two match points on the Konta serve, but the Brit served it out at the second time of asking.

Konta insisted she had not been as tense as the crowd, saying: "I actually felt quite fine. The way it went from 5-2 to 5-4 was very much on Petra's racket. She played very freely in the end. The balls were coming like bullets.

"There's not much that I did wrong. I actually thought I did quite well in trying to stay with her and trying to close it out in that 5-2 game. However, I also felt comfortable and confident that I was still doing the right things. I was either going to get another opportunity or I wasn't."

Konta's win continued her superb record in deciding sets this season. The 19th seed has now won 14 of the last 15 matches in which she has been taken the distance.

"That's something I can be really proud of," she said. "To know, even if it's just for myself, that I have the capability to stay there as long as I need to for however long, even if losing the first set, I know I have every opportunity to get back into the match."

Konta has now made back-to-back Grand Slam quarter-finals after her run to the last four of the French Open, and is certainly playing her best tennis since making the semis here two years ago and possibly even better.

"I'm not one to really compare myself to myself or to anything really," she said.

"Obviously the experience that I had in 2017 was a magnificent one. It was something that is incredibly special to me.

"Equally, how I'm doing so far, I'm just really pleased with the level I'm playing, how I'm competing, how I'm really just trying to find a way in each match that I play. I'm playing very tough matches against very tough opponents.

"Overall I'm enjoying this tournament for what it is, how I feel like I'm still building on each match that I'm playing."

Konta will undoubtedly be the favourite against 33-year-old Strycova, ranked 54th in the world, although the Czech did win their only previous meeting in Tokyo two years ago.

"She's a very crafty player," said Konta. "She knows how to mix it up. She knows how to play on this surface. I'm just looking forward to playing another great player. It's nice to be in the quarter-finals of a Slam again."

Meanwhile, Ukraine's eighth seed Elina Svitolina reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time and hopes her boxing workouts can help her go the distance.

The 24-year-old was quicker to the punch against Croatia's Petra Martic, winning 6-4 6-2 to continue her impressive progress in her seventh appearance in the main draw.

She will face unseeded Czech Karolina Muchova today with a first Grand Slam semi-final in her sights.

Asked how she is preparing for her matches, Svitolina said boxing was a useful way of letting off steam.

"I think it's a great workout because sometimes you just need to let go of the negative things in your head," she said. "Sometimes it's frustrating matches that you lose. I think it's a good workout also for your mind."

Svitolina said she is a big fan of Britain's former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

"Yeah, a big fan of his. Unfortunately his last fight wasn't great," she said. "In Ukraine there are great fighters. I don't know why, but since a long time ago I started doing boxing with my brother. Then throughout the years, I continued it."

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