First title confirms the rise of Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta holds a stuffed bear, the symbol of California, after her victory at Stanford. Picture: AP
Johanna Konta holds a stuffed bear, the symbol of California, after her victory at Stanford. Picture: AP
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Johanna Konta felt all her hard work paid off when she claimed her first career WTA Tour title with victory over Venus Williams at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.

The British No 1, who became the first British woman to win this title since Sue Barker in 1977, rose to No 14 in the world after the 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 victory in two hours, 18 minutes.

Fourteenth in the world represents a career-high for Konta, who in June 2015 was ranked 147th, and her new level follows a dramatic improvement in form that has seen her reach the semi-finals at January’s Australia Open, and at Eastbourne in June.

Konta looked to be coasting to victory when leading by a set and 4-1 in the second but Williams won six of the next seven games to haul herself back into the match and level it at one set all.

However, the 25-year-old regained her composure and after getting herself into a position of authority with a double break in the deciding set she did not make the same mistake again and after saving two match points, Williams’ return went into the net to hand Konta victory.

Konta’s service game was key to the win and she was regularly sending down serves in excess of 100 mph and hit 
12 aces to just three from 
Williams.

“It’s quite an incredibly 
humbling experience,” Konta, who also beat Williams at the Australian Open, said after the match.

“It’s a validation of all the hard work you’ve already put in and a motivator on the things you want to keep improving on, and the lengths you might go to in order to become that much better at your discipline.

“I’ve played her twice before and knew I’d be playing a magnitude of experience. Venus Williams doesn’t need an introduction, and I knew going into that I’d need to stay focused on myself and to be really grateful for the experience and try to learn from her within the match.

“I wanted to leave it all out there, but also absorb everything that I could possibly reinvest in my career moving forward.”

Konta paid tribute to the resilience and fight of the former world No 1, who had been looking for her 50th career title.

“Quite honestly, you’d expect nothing less from a champion,” Konta said. “They don’t give away any match, much less a final. It was her 80th, so you could only imagine the number of different situations that she’s already been in. It was about keeping things in perspective, and understanding there’d be ebbs and flows in the match. Every single point was a battle, and I tried to win as many battles as possible.

“The simpler you keep things, the more clarity you have, and the less dumb you play!”

Wimbledon semi-finalist Williams admitted she was not at her best in the final but it was tough to keep up with Konta, who turned in one of her best performances of a remarkable season.

“Credit to her for playing great tennis. She played so well and all of her balls were landing today,” Williams said. “It wasn’t my best day, but I tried to stay in there and fight, and that helped me get an opportunity to win the match.

“Just because it’s 4-1 doesn’t mean the match is over. It’s not a favourable scoreline if you happen to be down, but it’s not over.

“She played at such a high level today. She saved her best tennis for the final, which is what you want to do.

“She plays really well against me, so maybe she comes out and doesn’t feel any pressure and just swings for it. I tried to stay in there and fight. What can I say but give her credit.”

Williams’ journey to the final saw her climb one place into seventh in the rankings, while Heather Watson remains the next highest-ranked Briton, despite falling three places to 67th.