She is back. Unfortunately for Johanna Konta, Eugenie Bouchard is back in business, and it is the 22-year-old Canadian world No 48 who sits in the third round while Konta goes back to the drawing board.
The free-hitting, powerful Bouchard who dismantled Konta last night 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 looked a lot like the young superstar who thundered her way to the Wimbledon final two years ago. Back then, she was the “next big thing”, surrounded by potential sponsors, followed by TV cameras and reporters and making herself about as popular as dandruff in the locker room (she claimed that she did not need friends on tour).
Semi-final appearances at the Australian and French Opens prior to that final had sent her ranking up like a rocket and by the end of that year she was the world’s No 5. But when it came to defending those ranking points last year, the pressure mounted, the nerves set in and she fell like the stick.
Then at the US Open last September, she slipped and fell in the treatment room, cracking her head on the way down and suffering concussion. That put paid to the rest of the season and since she came back to the tour this year, she has only been a shadow of the young, powerful woman who looked ready to take the world by storm. Until last night.
Bouchard was clearly the better player in the first set as Konta could not land a first serve and was spraying forehands far and wide. But rather than crumble, Konta simply reset, rebooted and started again in the second set. The sheer weight of shot between the two was not for the faint-hearted and Konta was winning most exchanges.
But then Bouchard brought the hammer down again in the third set. But even then, despite the fact that the score appears to have been one-sided, the two women were going toe-to-toe in almost every point.
“Even in that final set, I believe maybe we had one game that was 15,” Konta said. “I think every other game was 30, deuce. It was a battle every single point. She was able to string together a few more points than myself.
“One of her strengths is she plays to take time away from her opponent. She does that very well. That wins her a lot of points and a lot of matches.
“I had to adapt and do my best in trying to impose myself on her. I think it was a good match. I think we were hitting it pretty hard.”
At least Konta had passed the test of nerve. Until this summer, she had never won a singles match at Wimbledon but in the months since she was sent packing in the first round by Maria Sharapova last year, she has reinvented herself as a top 20 player. A year ago she was the world No 126; today she is the No 19.
The mental fragility that had blighted her early career has been replaced with an unflappable, assured self-belief: she knows she can play with the big names and beat them on her day. Her run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open propelled her up the rankings but her week-in, week-out consistency around the world in tournaments large and small, has given her positive proof that she can stay there.
To come to SW19 as Britain’s top-ranked female player, to step on to a Centre Court filled with patriotic locals hoping to cheer a home win – that was going to test Konta’s new-found nerve to the limit. But the No 16 seed did not bottle it, she did not fold; she was beaten, plain and simple.
“To have matches like these only adds to the desire to keep getting better,” Konta said. “I don’t think I can quite describe how valuable these sorts of experiences are. I’m very grateful for them. I’m already just looking forward to being able to get out on to the match court again.
“Although her ranking may have gone down over the past year, her level of tennis never went away. She is an incredibly good player with a lot of experience, in the short career she’s had. I was expecting a tough match, and that’s what it was. It was a shame I couldn’t come through it.”