It was just what the doctor ordered: a young and inexperienced opponent, a quick finish and a place in the fourth round of the French Open.
Two days ago, Johanna Konta was almost undone by a spirited performance by the small but nimble Lauren Davis and a stinking cold. Last night, she looked physically miles better as she absolutely pummelled the 21-year-old Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-1. Kuzmova, the world No 47, is no pushover, but still she could do nothing to stop Konta running away with the match.
The only brief moment when it looked as if the Slovak might make a match of it was in the first set when, at 3-1 down, she broke back for 3-2. Would Konta be rattled by this? Was she feeling well enough to withstand a fightback? There was need to worry; Konta was stronger, braver and smarter than the young rival and after 54 minutes she had the match wrapped up in good time for supper and an early night.
“I had a lot of things go my way today,” Konta said, sounding much better than she had on Wednesday, “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. I’m really pleased with that.”
She had every right to be pleased. She won more than twice the number of points that Kuzmova did, she hit 20 clean winners and made only ten unforced errors. She was in charge from first ball until last and now faces her friend, Donna Vekic, the world No 24 from Croatia.
The two have played six times with honours even but they have never played on clay. Vekic won their last two encounters on a hard court and Konta won the two before that on grass in Nottingham last year and at Wimbledon the year before. That epic was only decided 10-8 in the third set and was the second-round launchpad for Konta’s run to the semi-finals.
“We’ve had plenty of battles on the court and we know each other off the court,” Konta said. “We’re good friends so it’ll be another privilege to play her. She’s a great player, playing really well, so it’s another opportunity for me to play a great player.”
The day at Roland Garros began with the swift and clinical removal of Karolina Pliskova, the No 2 seed, by Petra Martic, the No 31 seed, 6-3, 6-3. Martic has long had Pliskova’s number – she leads their lifetime rivalry with three wins to one, although at tour level they are tied at one win apiece – and that, combined with Pliskova’s poor record at Roland Garros (she has only reached the second week once in eight attempts) was a recipe for failure.
“I think I just didn’t play that well,” Pliskova said. “Maybe I was a little bit, at some points, passive, maybe not that fast. My serve wasn’t really working. I don’t think she did much wrong today, so I think she played clever. She was patient. I just did too many mistakes.”
Garbine Muguruza, the champion of 2016 and current world No 19, and Sloane Stephens, last year’s finalist, took their appointed places in the fourth round to set up the showcase women’s match on Sunday’s schedule. Stephens took her time to get there, needing three sets to get past Palona Hercog 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, but Muguruza wasted no time in beating Elina Svitolina, the world No 9, 6-3, 6-3.
“I feel very good in this tournament,” the Spaniard said. “I have always loved it since I was a little girl. I also love the clay court. Yeah, I don’t know what is about French Open that gives me always, like, a nice mood and my tennis develops much better.
“Playing a top player is always a tricky match. I was happy to face it today in an early round. I would like to play many matches like that. That’s going to give me a lot of confidence and a lot of meaning.”