It was close – far too close for comfort – but Johanna Konta survived the biggest challenge to her Wimbledon campaign so far and is through to the second week of The Championships.
She was pushed to the very brink by Sloane Stephens but, hanging on by her fingertips in the second set, she managed to find another gear, raise her game and beat the American 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
It was her fourth win over Stephens , pictured, this year and while the world No 9 had promised to bring something different to the match court this time, it was still not enough to stop Konta’s march towards the business end of the tournament. Even so, Britain’s No 1 knew that she had been a fag paper away from defeat against the former US Open champion and former French Open finalist.
“There wasn’t a lot in it for me to be finished after two sets,” she admitted. “So I’m just really pleased to have competed and just really try to find a way to get myself into the match.”
Stephens’ new weapon for the grass was not really that new at all. She just did what she is best at: soaking up pace, turning defence into attack and striking the ball with clinical accuracy. Coupled with her superb athleticism and balance, Stephens in that sort of form has the beating of anyone. And so it looked for the first 90 minutes. Konta was not the same error-free, precision player of the first two rounds. There were unforced errors, rather too many of them, and forced errors brought about by the quality of the American’s shot making.
But Konta hung on. Apart from a brief moment of frustration when she yelled at herself for conceding a break point in the second set, she was doggedly but calmly trying to find a way to stop Stephens from controlling matters.
“I was just keeping an open mind,” Konta said, “trying to find a way, trying to give her different looks, try to give her different balls, just to try to get her out of her zone, because she was very much in it for a big portion of the match, especially in the first, then a big part of the second. Pretty much the whole second.”
A marathon game in the second set was the turning point. Lasting more than 10 minutes, it saw Konta fend off three break points and come through six deuces.
Stephens was pushing as hard as she could but Konta would not give. And once the Briton had held her serve, she found a way to raise her game another notch and start to put pressure on the American. Once the second set had been won, Konta was in charge and after two hours and two minutes, she was through to the second week.
“I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to make it to the second week in two successive grand slams,” said Konta, who reached the Roland Garros semi-finals last month.
“I’ve never been able to do that before. The more opportunities I get to be in the latter stages of grand slams, the more experience I gain.
“Experience can only bring good things. It can only help with managing different things, different situations that come up at this point of the tournament.”
The next situation to managed comes in the imposing form of Petra Kvitova, the world No 6. Kvitova leads their career rivalry 3-1 but their grass court match-up is level pegging at a win apiece.
“She’s a two-time Wimbledon champion,” Konta said. “Her favourite surface and her best surface is grass, and here at Wimbledon. I’m going to be coming up against a very, very inspired and very, very tough Petra.”
But Stephens was also inspired and tough – and Konta found a way to win that one. Let the second week begin.