British No 1 Johanna Konta battles past Kirsten Flipkens

Britain's Johanna Konta en route to victory over Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. Picture: Andy Brownbill/APBritain's Johanna Konta en route to victory over Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. Picture: Andy Brownbill/AP
Britain's Johanna Konta en route to victory over Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. Picture: Andy Brownbill/AP
Johanna Konta could not deliver the same brilliance that won her the title in Sydney last week but still proved too strong for Kirsten Flipkens in the Australian Open first round.

The British number one produced a scratchy performance in her opening match on Margaret Court Arena but it is a sign of her rising class that she could still convincingly overcome Flipkens, under-ranked at 70th in the world, 7-5 6-2.

The ninth seed will now face Japan’s big-hitting but erratic 19-year-old Naomi Osaka, who needed three sets to overcome Thai wildcard Luksika Kumkhum 6-7 (2/7) 6-4 7-5.

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Konta’s breathtaking wins against Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska at the Sydney International last week have many tipping her as a contender for the title here but this was not a vintage display from the 25-year-old.

Flipkens played her part, a crafty and, at 31, experienced opponent but it was more Konta’s 22 unforced errors, 12 from her usually reliable backhand side, that made the contest closer than it could have been.

“She made it difficult for me out there,” Konta said.

“She’s got this great ability at really frustrating her opponents with some of the balls she’s able to hit.

“She’s very creative in that way so I think I was really happy I was able to work myself into the match and to come through it.”

Konta will have been pleased to finish in an hour and 36 minutes and, with an 11am start local time, before the peak heat set in, with temperatures rising to around 35 degrees Celsius in Melbourne.

She looked nervous, however, walking out on court, and committed eight unforced errors in the opening three games alone.

It was not until a moth, floating around her skirt, interrupted her service that the Briton broke into a smile and appeared to relax. She instantly delivered a booming ace.

“I just saw the moth go between my legs and I didn’t see it come out, so I was like, ‘Oh no, is it under my skirt?’” Konta later explained. “That’s basically what happened.”

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Konta had two set points when serving at 5-4 but failed to convert and instead it was Flipkens that broke when a wayward backhand volley concluded a tense 10-minute game.

At one stage in her career Konta might have crumbled but now she is made of sterner stuff, proved again when she had to replay a break point she clearly would have won as a wrong call was corrected.

It made no difference. Konta broke for 6-5 and served out the first set to love.

The second frame was more straightforward for the Briton, who broke decisively at 2-2 with another trademark backhand winner. When the same shot flew past Flipkens a game later, the Belgian could only clap her racket in resignation.

One unusual moment soon after saw a Flipkens lob land down on her opponents’ foot, Konta misjudging the flight of a ball she thought was dropping out.

The next point she fired off a backhand down the line and broke again for 5-2.

It summed up a topsy-turvy match for Konta, who will have to play better if she is to challenge for the title. For now, it was a case of job done.