US Open: Relaxed Johanna Konta shines in New York

Johanna Konta serves to Louisa Chirico en route to victory in the first round of the US Open. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Johanna Konta serves to Louisa Chirico en route to victory in the first round of the US Open. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Johanna Konta has spent this summer discovering the art of winning; Laura Robson, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten what to do next when victory is within reach.

Britain’s former No 1 managed to fritter away a 4-0 lead in the third set to Elena Vesnina yesterday, the second time in ten days that she has blown a winning lead. When she was attempting to qualify for the New Haven event last month she was a set and 5-3 up against Christina McHale but ended up losing in three sets. Against Vesnina in the first round of the US Open, she eventually lost 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“Any loss is tough but that one especially because if we are being honest, I should have won so that definitely makes it harder,” she said. “I’m more determined to work harder for the next one. In the third set I gave myself the best chance by going 4-0 but for some unknown reason, decided to let her win the match rather than me go out and win it.

“It was one of those things that I didn’t feel overly nervous but just took five per cent off all my shots and that was enough to let her back into the match. She wasn’t going to give up so just that five per cent made all the difference.”

After 18 months away from the tour dealing with a serious injury to her left wrist, Robson knows she has to be patient and just wait for her results and her form to improve. She is only a couple of months into her comeback and, so far, has won just two matches. But simply being back on tour is an achievement – and apart from the business of closing out the match, she played well in parts yesterday. But tennis players are not known for their patience.

“I think at this point in my comeback, it’s very easy to make excuses and say ‘oh, well, it’s all part of the process’ but I don’t feel that way,” Robson said. “I feel I should have been better.”

Konta, by contrast, is a picture of calm and serenity. She waltzed past Louisa Chirico 6-3, 6-0 and into the second round, taking just 60 minutes to notch up her 14th consecutive win of the summer. She has not lost a match since she took a straight sets pummelling from Maria Sharapova in the first round at Wimbledon, a new surge of form that she puts down to her work with Juan Coto, a sports psychologist.

“I think the big difference for me is being able to relax,” she said, “because I’ve kind of let go a little bit and relaxed into things. I feel I’m carrying less tension around with me. Obviously tension never leads to anything good.

“It’s not so much releasing the tension, it’s managing it. I’m a certain personality and it’s about taking the goods from that but also managing the things that are not so helpful towards me. So I’m happy with my management of things, more so now than before, but I keep stressing that it is a process. This is not something that kind of happens overnight. In my case, it didn’t just click, it’s something that I need to make into a habit and that’s what I’m doing every single day right now.”

She has been working with Coto since the end of last year and while there has been no great eureka moment for her, her recent run of success has been slowly gathering momentum. Winning two titles on the ITF circuit, the tier below the main tour, got her started and now she has moved up a level to the very peak level of the sport. Now it gets very interesting.

“It’s all one big process,” she said. “Obviously I’m feeling happy with where I am because I do obviously have match routine under my belt, I have got a lot of matches under my belt and you can’t practise that, you can’t buy that.

“So I’m very lucky with that. But in terms of the things I’m working on they’re exactly the same as at the beginning of the year. I’m just happy that I’ve been healthy this year, so far, knock on wood, that I’m able to keep working the way I want to.”

British No 2 Aljaz Bedene was ushered into the second round when Ernests Gulbis pulled up short in the third set of their encounter. Bedene had just edged his nose ahead at 3-6, 6-4, 3-0 when the Latvian threw in the towel. He now plays Donald Young who knocked out Gilles Simon, the No 11 seed, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

James Ward, though, was not so fortunate and no matter that Thomaz Bellucci was being massaged and manipulated by the trainer in the third set, he could not find a way to bother the Brazilian and lost quickly and quietly 6-1, 7-5, 6-3.