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Konta setting sights higher after soaring into quarters

 

Power move: British No.1 Johanna Konta celebrates her victory over Donna Vekic yesterday
Power move: British No.1 Johanna Konta celebrates her victory over Donna Vekic yesterday

By Eleanor Crooks

Johanna Konta is delighted to be back in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament - but the British No.1 does not want to stop there.

Konta produced one of the best displays of her career to defeat 23rd seed Donna Vekic 6-2 6-4 in the fourth round of the French Open and make the last-eight at a Slam for the fourth time.

Konta was already the first British woman through to the fourth round at Roland Garros since 1983 and she is now one win away from matching Jo Durie's achievement of making the semi-finals that year.

It is by some distance her best Grand Slam run since she reached the last-four at Wimbledon two years ago, after which she experienced feelings of burn-out and a dramatic slump in her fortunes.

"I have only been at this stage a handful of times," said Konta. "So to be back here, I'm definitely very pleased.

"This is not my end goal or anything, I would love to be here until the very end, but I'm also doing my best at really enjoying the different matches I get to play and the different accomplishments that I get to experience. Today was definitely one of those."

The British No.1 was unaware of who she would be playing in the immediate aftermath of her victory, but it was later confirmed to be Sloane Stephens, who defeated Garbine Muguruza 6-4 6-3 to progress.

Stephens will pose a difficult challenge for Konta to overcome.

If she could come through that awkward hurdle, the chance of a first Grand Slam final would certainly open up given that the other match in her half is between two first-time quarter-finalists in Croatia's Petra Martic and teenage Czech Marketa Vondrousova.

Going into the fourth round, only nine of the 32 seeds were left in the draw, with Saturday seeing the exits of World No.1 Naomi Osaka and 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams.

Asked if there was a feeling everyone was beatable, Konta said: "I think that's been the growing mood in the women's game for quite some time now.

"It's nice to see competitive matches and for people to also enjoy matches where nothing is a given."

Konta had produced a display of fierce but controlled hitting to swat aside Viktoria Kuzmova in the third round but Vekic was a step up in class.

The 22-year-old Croatian has had a very good season and had won her last two matches against Konta. In all they had played one another six times previously, most memorably in the second round at Wimbledon in 2017, where Konta came through 10-8 in a deciding set.

Another close battle had been anticipated in France but the British No.1 took a grip of the match from the start and did not relent, serving powerfully and accurately and sending her ground strokes fizzing into the corners.

Konta broke Vekic's serve three times in the opening set before clinching it with an impressive ace after saving three break points with winners.

Her only missed step was allowing Vekic to break back for 4-4 in the second set, but Konta promptly broke her opponent again before serving out the match to love.

The 28-year-old said: "It was a good match. I thought I had very, very few drops in my level, which I think definitely kept the pressure on her."

One impressed observer was former British No.1 Annabel Croft, who believes Konta is playing even better than when she was in the top 10.

"I'm not sure I've seen Jo Konta play this well, particularly on clay," said Croft. "It's back to that sort of form that got her to the semis at the Australian Open and Wimbledon as well. But I think her level is even up a couple of notches."

Meanwhile, Dominic Thiem branded the decision to cut his press conference short to enable Serena Williams to take over the room a "joke".

Thiem, who reached his first Grand Slam final here last year, was discussing his third-round win over Pablo Cuevas when he was told he would need to leave.

The fourth seed said: "I don't really get it, seriously. What the hell? But it's a joke, really. What's the point of that, I have to leave the room because she's coming?

"I wasn't angry or frustrated. It is just the principle. It doesn't matter if it is me who sits in there. Even if a junior is in there, every player has to wait. It also shows a bad personality. I am 100 per cent sure (Roger) Federer or (Rafael) Nadal would never do something like that."

It is understood that, while Williams did not request for Thiem to be ousted, she was unwilling to wait for the Austrian.

She was not in the best of moods having been beaten by Sofia Kenin in her earliest loss at a Grand Slam for five years.

Roger Federer weighed in, saying he understood the Austrian's annoyance but that they had been joking about it.

Federer said after his fourth-round victory over Leonardo Mayer: "Something went wrong for this to happen. I think there is, with all the players, (an understanding) the one who is still in the tournament gets priority."

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