Saturday 7 December 2019

British No 1 Johanna Konta sends Venus Williams packing at Australian Open

Johanna Konta beat Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2

Phil newman

Britain’s Johanna Konta proved her determination to be much more than a one-season wonder when she recorded one of the finest victories of her career here at the Australian Open.

The world No 47, who climbed more than 100 places in the rankings last year, crowned her debut in the main draw at the year’s opening Grand Slam event with a crushing 6-4,6-2 victory over Venus Williams.

Williams may not be the force she was when she won Wimbledon five times but the 35-year-old American, the oldest player in the 128-strong singles field here, enjoyed her best season for five years in 2015, ending the campaign in the world’s top 10 for the first time since 2010.

The former world No 1 had beaten Konta in a tight encounter in their only previous meeting in China last year, but this time the contest was not close. From the moment Konta broke in the third game the British No 1 looked comfortably in command, though she had to overcome minor wobbles at the end of both sets.

Although Konta beat Garbine Muguruza, then the world No 9, on her way to the fourth round of the US Open last summer, this victory over the current world No 10 was arguably the more significant victory. Konta, aged 24, was just three years old when Williams won her first match on the women’s tour. The Sydney-born Briton, who lived in Australia for the first 13 years of her life, grew up with huge admiration for the American.

Williams, who lost to her sister Serena in her only final here in 2003, was diagnosed five years ago with an incurable auto-immune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain but has defied all the odds to extend her career. One of her big goals is to play in another Olympic Games this summer.

Both players were looking for their first victories of the year after Konta lost first time out in both Shenzhen and Hobart while Williams went down to Daria Kasatkina in the first round in Auckland, where she was defending the title.

Konta was making her debut in Rod Laver Arena, which is the main show court here, but showed no sign of nerves. From the start she served consistently, returned with purpose and struck the ball cleanly from the back of the court.

While Williams dominated whenever she got into the net, Konta restricted her opportunities to do so with the consistently accurate length of her ground strokes, denying the American the chance to find her rhythm.

Although Konta’s strengths are her serve and her baseline game she can also play with a delicate touch and is a fine mover around the court. As she showed in her marathon victory over Muguruza at Flushing Meadows last year, she also has great stamina and copes well with the heat.

The temperature was 26C and rising when the two players went on court. Konta was soon in front, breaking in the third game after Williams netted a forehand under pressure. The Briton was broken when she served for the first set at 5-2 but made amends two games later, holding to love and clinching the set with an ace.

When Konta won the first five games of the second set it seemed that Williams might be heading for one of her heaviest defeats in a Grand Slam tournament, but the American suddenly found some form to break serve and then reduce the arrears to 5-2 with some much bolder stroke-making.

Konta appeared to tighten up and had to come from behind to serve out for victory in the following game. Williams had two break points in a game where she twice survived Hawk-Eye challenges with winners that clipped the lines. Konta eventually secured the win thanks to two bold serves.

“I'm very satisfied with how I dealt with the situation,” Konta said afterwards. “It was hot out there. I was playing an incredibly great player. That's no secret. I definitely played a good level and obviously it's always nerve-wracking to be able to continue that. There are ebbs and flows in a match. I'm happy with the whole match in general.”

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