Red-hot Johanna Konta scorches into French Open quarter-finals

Johanna Konta stretches to play a backhand during her impressive fourth-round win against Donna Vekic. Picture: AP.
Johanna Konta stretches to play a backhand during her impressive fourth-round win against Donna Vekic. Picture: AP.
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It was the first day that Johanna Konta had not made history at the French Open. A blisteringly hot day in 
Paris, a blisteringly hot performance to reach the quarter-finals but not a single record broken.

Since she started ploughing through the rounds at Roland Garros this past week, Konta has been matching and breaking the records set by Jo Durie back in the 80s and 90s. To reach the third round matched Durie’s 1992 achievements in Paris. To reach the fourth round matched Durie’s efforts in 1983. But 36 years ago, Durie went on to reach the semi-finals so Konta has a little more work to do to tick off another career milestone.

She looked like that was perfectly possible, though, after she absolutely walloped Donna Vekic 6-2, 6-4 yesterday, speeding into the last eight in just 84 minutes. She was strong, she was quick; she thumped her serve and clattered her backhand. And she had Vekic, the world No 24 from Croatia, on the back foot from the very start. It was one of her best grand slam displays and certainly her best yet anywhere on clay.

“It was a good match,” Konta said. “I thought I had very, very few drops in my level, which I think definitely kept the pressure on her and in trying to find a solution.

“The thing with Donna is until we shook hands, I thought there was always going to be an opportunity or a chance that she was going to raise her level or do something or even for me to drop. It’s never a guarantee to play well throughout the whole match.

“I think I was able to identify where I was getting points and what was kind of making her feel uncomfortable on court. I thought I played into the open spaces quite well. I thought I was able to find opportunities to do that.”

Konta has always had belief in her ability to play on clay – her best results as a young hopeful starting out came on the stuff – but her results over the past few years have not reflected that optimism. Until this year.

“I think more than anything I am just playing the game quite well,” she said. “I think that also comes from winning some 
matches; you get some match fitness in.

“I have been in a lot of different situations over the last number of weeks, a lot of tough ones, a lot of maybe ones that don’t seem as tough but are tough in their own way. I think coming through them definitely gives me confidence in being able to deal with different situations when I go back out on court.”

The next situation to be dealt with will be Sloane Stephens, pictured, 
tomorrow, probably on the huge, new Court Philippe Chatrier. It will be familiar territory for the American – she beat Garbine 
Muguruza 6-4, 6-3 on the same court yesterday – and a familiar foe: Konta and Stephens have played twice this year with Konta winning on both occasions. “She plays her best tennis in situations like these in Grand Slams,” Konta said.

“Against Sloane, I played her recently in Rome, but what she does well is she raises her level in tough moments.”

Stephens also has the added advantage of experience – she won the US Open in 2017 and she reached the French Open final last summer. But Konta, too, knows what it is like to be involved at the sharp end of a major event after reaching the Australian open semi-finals three years ago and the Wimbledon semi-final two years ago. She knows what this process feels like and she rather likes it.

“I have only been at this stage a handful of times,” she said. “So to be back here, I’m definitely very pleased. This is not my end goal or anything. I would love to be here till the very end, but I’m also really doing my best at really enjoying the different matches I get to play and the different accomplishments that I get to experience.

“Today’s match was definitely one. I’m really enjoying it and really grateful for it. I’m just happy to still be here.”

The other quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw will be between Marketa Vondrousova, the 16-year-old Czech left-hander and Petra Martic, the world No 31 from Croatia.

For Vondrousova, who crushed the No 12 seed Anastaija Sevastova 6-2, 6-0 yesterday, all of this is new. The best result of her fledgling career until this point is a fourth round finish at the US Open last summer – now she is two matches away from the final.

“You can’t expect you’re going to play quarter-finals in grand slam, but I played some tough matches,” Vondrousova gushed. “And I’m just happy with my game. And I’m just, yeah, really happy.”

Martic was pretty chuffed, too. Four times in the last seven years she had got to a grand slam fourth round and four times she had lost. At the age of 28, she was beginning to think she was running out of time. And then she edged past Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 and a spot in the last eight was hers.

“Today [those four losses] played a role in my mind,” Martic admitted. “It was not always easy to focus on my game, but I really just tried to fight as hard as I could, and thank God, I finally made it.”