What's the story?
Johanna Konta, the former world no. 4, gave a solid display of strength and focus to win at the Brisbane International on New Year’s Day. The 28-year-old earned a huge upset victory against third-seed Sloane Stephens to win in straight sets 6-4, 6-3. It was an important moment for Konta who had the support and the key to start a new rivalry against the 2017 US Open champion.
This was the first meeting between the two stars making it an interesting matchup in the first round in the Australian Open Series.
How the players finished last year?
The American had a great finish to her season making it to the final of the WTA championship. Despite losing to Elina Svitolina, she won four in a row to end on a positive note after a dismal run through Asia. Konta, on the other hand, didn't have a great finish to 2018 and finished as the 37th ranked player on tour.
How the action unfolded?
The match started with Konta's serve who was put under immense pressure right from the start when she barely managed to hold her serve in a game which lasted 10 minutes. When it looked as if she would get the best start to her offense, Stephens closed the 40-0 deficit to deuce and it took 10 minutes for Konta to save her serve in the very first game.
Getting the break early from the American wasn’t going to happen as the former US Open kept the Brit back in the second game to level things early. Konta remained steadfast despite having to put a lot of effort to save her serve.
Both were clearly on the hunt for the break of serve and for Konta, getting it was a great point in the opening set. With her forehand warmed up, she added some aggression to get the job done against the third seed and lead 3-1. Another game slipped away from Stephens who felt that her racket tension was too tight during the game.
However, Stephens got her to serve back into play but there was still some struggle in the American’s second serve and first serve returns. She faced another deficit as she let an open court situation fall apart. It was soon a 5-2 hold for Konta who soon had her first set point opportunity but let the ball land long off the baseline. It set up deuce which Stephens had yet to win one but her moment came to hold service in the eighth.
A big statement from the American came with her blanking Konta in the following battle with her getting the shot to level the playing field with the ball in hand. Konta didn’t let that be a problem for her as she fought through the difficulties to win the set after 59 minutes. Both had the first serve above 60 percent but the difference came down to returns which Stephens suffered greatly on scoring 15 of 33.
As the second got underway, Konta saved her serve easily compared to the first set and was leading the third seed 30-0. However, they had to take a break on the court due to an issue in the stands. After nearly a 12-minute break, the two got back to work with Stephens answering Konta well in the rallies. It resulted in Stephens breaking Konta's serve to go up 2-1, however, Konta hit right back and broke the former US Open Champion right back to make it 2-all and then held her own serve to get back in front.
Stephens called down Black (her coach) who told her to keep up the intensity and adjust the forehand. His words resulted in Stephens keeping Konta within reach but she once again trailed after another hold from the number one Brit came to light in the seventh. She consolidated it with a break of the American who was facing the end of the road with Konta serving for the match.
Konta demonstrated a high level of consistent concentration and focus sitting two points from victory. She reached match point on a line drive winner followed by the win that came on a drive that landed long on the return for Stephens. The scoreline might suggest an easy victory, but its competitiveness could be gauged from the duration of the match which said 1 hour and 52 minutes, thus, giving a different story.
I thought it was a tough match,” Konta said.
“The first three games took about a half hour so there was very little in it from the beginning. I’m just very happy that I was able to maintain my level quite consistently throughout against Sloane you have to do that because she can run away. I’m happy to have another chance at playing another match here.”
What's next for Konta?
Konta will face fellow Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the next round who she has defeated in the tournament before.