NOTTINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM – Johanna Konta, Heather Watson and Katie Boulter advanced at the Nature Valley Open, but Katie Swan and Gabriella Taylor faced close defeats in their matches.
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Konta defeats Nara to set up all-Brit clash with Watson
The British No.1 Johanna Konta made her eagerly-anticipated return to the grass with a resounding victory against the World No.97 Kurumi Nara in the first round of Nottingham. It was as good as a first match on grass could be for Konta, who was coming into the grass season in a very different shape to last year, with a lot less match-wins and matches in general under her belt.
The match-up with Nara was ideal going into this opener. Konta has now won seven of her eight matches in this head-to-head and it is down to the time that Nara allows her opponents, which helped Konta out on the much quicker grass surface. The Japanese player also gives plenty of rhythm at the beginning of rallies, so Konta would get to see the same ball quite a lot, which is where the Brit is at her most dangerous.
Konta now is set to face British No.2 Heather Watson in Thursday’s action-packed schedule for a place in the Nottingham quarter-finals. Watson came through a tricky first round against America’s Danielle Lao, who can cause her opponent’s trouble with the slice off both wings and her ability to battle from the baseline, but Watson produced some fabulous serving and played a very confident match off the ground to get back to winning ways after an early defeat in Surbiton last week.
The match between Konta and Watson surely is tough to call. Watson absolutely thrives on the grass and can seem to turn her game on during this time of the year, but I think Konta’s big match experience might pull her through in this one.
Another very promising story for British tennis fans was the arrival of Katie Boulter on the WTA stage as she beat former US Open semi-finalist Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets. Boulter had very little experience at this level, but did not out of place in a number of key areas in this match. The British wildcard covered the court very well, putting her long levers to great use from the back of the court and she also picked her moments wisely as to when to shock Wickmayer with her aggressive brand of tennis, but also when to soak the pressure up slightly and show off her defensive capabilities. Boulter, most importantly, turned up in the concluding moments of both sets, where she broke in the last game of both sets to get her first main draw victory.
Boulter moves on to a first WTA second round where she faces the 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur. It will be a very tricky match for the Brit, who loses out when it comes to big match experience, but if there was ever going to be a surface that you would rather play the Australian on, it would be grass, where she does have a tendency to struggle in early rounds and has done quite a lot at Wimbledon. The top-spin forehand and kick serve of the Australian works wonders on the clay, but becomes less effective on the grass and that is why Stosur’s biggest weapons are neutralised on this surface.
Two British casualties of the Nottingham first round saw Katie Swanand Gabriella Taylorexit the tournament early. Gabriella Taylor pushed defending champion Donna Vekicto the limit. The Brit was facing a 5-2 deficit in the first set, fought back to level it at 5-5, but still eventually lost the first set. The effort she put in towards gaining some mental ground in this match-up helped her turn the match into a bit of a slugfest and she responded by taking the second set. Taylor had her chances, most notably being 3-0 up in the deciding set tiebreak, but Vekic held her nerve to take all of the next seven points to win 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (3) in a match that lasted close to three hours overall.
Swan’s loss to Mona Barthelwas very different. It was a serve-dominated match with very few breaks in total and Swan gave as good as she got for a lot of it, trying to get her first forehand into the match as much as possible, but it was the more experienced German who performed well at the back-end of both sets to steal it. The streaky Barthel just about edged it 7-6(5), 7-5.
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