Wednesday 26 October 2016

Johanna Konta becomes the first British woman to advance to a Grand Slam quarter-final in 32 years

Tom Allnutt

Published 25/01/2016 | 10:27

Britain's Johanna Konta celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park
Britain's Johanna Konta celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park

Johanna Konta became Britain's first female grand slam quarter-finalist since 1984 after she edged out Ekaterina Makarova in a nail-biting contest at the Australian Open.

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It is 32 years since Jo Durie reached the last eight at Wimbledon but Konta ended the wait for the next quarter-finalist as she came from behind to beat Makarova 4-6 6-4 8-6 on Margaret Court Arena.

The British number one will now face either Madison Keys, the American 15th seed, or Chinese qualifier Shuai Zhang for a place in the semi-finals.

At three hours and four minutes, it was the second longest match of the women's tournament so far - although Konta could have settled matters sooner had she not been broken when leading 5-4 in the decider.

It made no odds, however, as she served out at the second time of asking, before flinging her racket into the air in celebration.

"Mentally, emotionally, physically, I left it all out here on court," Konta said.

"I tried to hang in there and just run after every ball and keep fighting. That's all I can do and fortunately I was able to capitalise on some opportunities and close out in the end."

The victory marks Konta's best ever performance at a grand slam, going one stage further than her breakthrough US Open run to the fourth round in September.

It also continues a remarkable rise for the Sydney-born 24-year-old and Makarova was arguably the opponent that started it all as Konta's win when they met at Eastbourne last summer was the first of seven victories against top-20 opponents.

This was nip-and-tuck all the way through and the only shame was there were not more people to witness it with the swathes of empty seats in Margaret Court Arena suggesting Konta's dramatic elevation is yet to catch the world's attention.

They will have to sit up and take notice soon, with Konta now the form player in her quarter and with a strong chance of making the last four.

The first set was a straight baseline-to-baseline battle with half an hour's worth of blistering groundshots shooting by before even the first five games were up.

Makarova, however, held her nerve where Konta could not, as the Briton served two double faults and missed a short forehand at 5-4 to hand the Russian the opening set.

Once upon a time Konta might have retreated, deflated by her errors, but she is made of sterner stuff these days and hit back, racing into a 3-1 lead and then 5-4.

Serving under pressure again, this time to win the set not save it, Konta delivered as Makarova ballooned long and the contest was sent to a decider.

Makarova took a lengthy toilet break, presumably to recover her focus, and then one game later a medical time for a blister on her foot.

Konta was unimpressed the second delay had so swiftly followed the first but both she, and her impaired opponent, continued where they left off as neither were able to take a decisive advantage.

There were two break points for Konta during a crunch game at 3-3 but Makarova saved both before a well-placed lob saw her edge ahead once more.

Konta, however, had the bit between her teeth, piling the pressure on again two games later with a brilliant forehand pass, before sealing the break to lead 5-4.

One game away, Konta failed to close out as two sizzling Makarova forehands put the match back on a knife-edge.

Neither player relented, each holding serve for 6-6, but suddenly the nerves took hold of Makarova, who double faulted and missed two simple forehands to give Konta a second chance to serve out.

This time she was decisive, delivering three crashing serves and when Makarova netted the fourth, Konta's progress was finally secured.

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