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Superb Konta blazes trail as Paris bid gathers pace

Victory roar: Johanna Konta celebrates her success over Victoria Kuzmova last night
Victory roar: Johanna Konta celebrates her success over Victoria Kuzmova last night

By Eleanor Crooks

Johanna Konta became the first British woman to reach the fourth round of the French Open for 36 years by breezing past Viktoria Kuzmova on Court Simonne Mathieu.

Not since Jo Durie in 1992 had any British woman made round three, and Konta's 6-2 6-1 victory saw her emulate Durie and Anne Hobbs, who both made the last-16 in 1983, with the former going all the way to the semi-finals.

Konta is still some way from matching that, with a clash against Croatia's Donna Vekic to come first tomorrow, but she was undoubtedly impressive against Kuzmova, wrapping up victory in just 54 minutes.

Konta said: "I had a lot of things go my way, and I think I knew going into the match that I really had to not give her the opportunity to have the time she needs to play well. Because when she has the time, she's very hard to play.

"So I was just trying to take time away and try to impose myself as much as possible," she added.

"I'm really pleased with that. I'm just really pleased to get through this one and give myself the opportunity to play another match."

It was the sixth time Konta has reached the third round of a Grand Slam, and the sixth time she has won, highlighting that she is an extremely dangerous player when full of confidence.

Konta has broken a succession of Durie's records over the last three years.

This was one Durie, who is working here for Eurosport, was happy to see go, saying: "Of course I like holding onto records, but I also like them being broken, this one in particular since it's been 27 years - it's long enough."

Konta's run certainly highlighted the extreme paucity of success for British women on the clay in recent years, which had included four first-round defeats for herself.

She would have expected to face fourth seed Kiki Bertens, one of the favourites for the title, but the Dutchwoman was forced out by a stomach bug, meaning it was 21-year-old Kuzmova who stood across the net on Roland Garros' new garden court.

It was after 7.30pm when the clash began, presenting the threat of the match not being finished until today.

Konta, who has been battling a heavy cold, seemed in no mood to come back today, winning the first three games of the opening set and then the last three after Kuzmova had briefly threatened to get herself into the match.

The Slovakian is a big hitter, who has claimed some notable wins this season to climb to 47th in the rankings, but Konta was able to exploit her limitations in movement.

The British player had seen her previous opponent, Lauren Davis, respond well after going a set down, but this time there was no let-up from Konta and Kuzmova was simply unable to respond.

Petra Martic pulled off the biggest upset of the French Open so far by knocking out second seed Karolina Pliskova - and the Croatian is not planning on stopping there. Pliskova arrived in Paris after winning the biggest clay-court title of her career in Rome, but it is not her best surface and the 6-3 6-3 defeat was not a total shock given the calibre of her opponent.

Martic has had more clay-court wins than any other woman this season, winning a title in Istanbul and reaching the semi-finals in Charleston, and she used her nous to reach the fourth round here for the third time. Pliskova, a semi-finalist in 2017, had been in good form, beating Konta to win the Italian Open.

Her 6-3 6-3 loss made her the fourth of the women's top 10 seeds to exit.

Former champion Garbine Muguruza reached the fourth round for the sixth successive year with a 6-3 6-3 victory over ninth seed Elina Svitolina.

Muguruza, who won the title here in 2016, has a remarkable ability to find her best form at the Grand Slams and, after making the semi-finals last year, is again on a good run.

Pliskova's Croatian conqueror Martic, who last reached the fourth round in 2012, will face two-time quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi from Estonia in the next round.

Australian Open semi-finalist Pliskova was broken twice in the first set and three times in the second after she made 28 unforced errors and won only 33% of points on her second serve.

The World No.2, who has now exited the French Open in the third round two years running, is yet to win a Grand Slam title but reached the US Open final in 2016.

"I think the court is pretty slow, so you just have to play some extra shots," said the former World No.1.

"The centre court, I played twice, and twice it was slow," she added.

Pliskova's exit has also helped open up the bottom half of the women's draw, although American seventh seed Sloane Stephens should provide another stern test for Muguruza in the next round.

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