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British dark horse Konta negotiates tricky start

Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 17/1/17 Britain's Johanna Konta signs autographs after winning her Women's singles first round match against Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 17/1/17 Britain's Johanna Konta signs autographs after winning her Women's singles first round match against Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Melanie Burton

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Britain's growing hopes of a first women's grand slam champion in 40 years moved a step closer on Tuesday when ninth seed Johanna Konta took out Kirsten Flipkins 7-5 6-2 in the blazing sun at Australian Open.

Konta came through the tricky opening-round encounter in reasonable shape after an hour and a half, with two breaks in the opening set and another couple in the second helping to keep her time on court to a minimum.

Belgian Flipkens, who turned 31 last week, did not give her an easy ride, however, mixing it up with a smorgasbord of shots to give the 25-year-old a proper workout under the open roof on Margaret Court Arena.

"She made it difficult for me out there," Konta told reporters.

"She's got this great ability at really frustrating her opponents with some of the balls she's able to hit. She's very creative in that way, so I think I was really happy I was able to work myself into the match and to come through."

Australian-born Konta has had a fairytale last 12 months, soaring to world number nine after a surprise charge into the semis in Melbourne last year.

Last week, she won a warm-up tournament in Sydney to bag a trophy from the city of her birth, fuelling hopes that she could bring Britain to its women's glory since Virginia Wade's 1977 Wimbledon triumph.

Konta has attempted to downplay expectations but showed few signs of nerves as she brought up match point with an uncompromising smash at the net before sealing victory when Flipkens went long with a return.

The Briton was delighted to get out of the sun as quickly as possible, even if she had experienced worse conditions during a Sydney heat wave last week.

"It was hot, but last week in Sydney, we experienced something a lot hotter. So I think it was almost cool in comparison," Konta laughed.

She will next play Naomi Osaka, the 19-year-old Japanese ranked number 48 in the world.

"I remember her playing once in the U.S. Open, 2015, in the qualifiers," Konta said.

"Since then, she's improved a lot. I have tried to, as well. I know she plays a big game. She has big shots. I'm definitely prepared to go in for a battle."

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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