PARIS, FRANCE – British No. 1 Johanna Konta closed the book on her singles clay court season with a first round defeat to Yulia Putintseva.
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Yulia Putintseva def. Johanna Konta  6-4 6-3
British No. 1 Johanna Konta met with typically feisty resistance from Yulia Putintseva as the Kazakh picked up her first win over the Brit in three attempts, all on clay. The first set looked competitive for the first half a dozen games, with the pair not giving much away, and Konta’s movement again looked a lot more secure that maybe at the start of the season.
However, with some time to reflect after the match, Konta’s assessment was a little more pragmatic. We often say that if Konta’s serve is firing, then the other aspects of her game come together, and we saw that with a couple of deft volleys at the net where once we would have held our breath, hidden behind a convenient sofa, or a combination thereof.
However things started to go south as Konta was forced to defend against the first break point of the match, on her own serve. It was a good hold from 0-30 down, but she found herself under increasing pressure once more as her first serve deserted her, with Putintseva getting the first break of the match.
What was encouraging to see was Konta rallying to break the Kazakh straight back with a hefty roar to boot, but a break back does not mean a whole lot if you cannot hold onto it. Another shaky service game handed a service-action mimicking Putintseva finally making good on a third set point to grab the first set.
The second set at least started promisingly for Konta with a tough fight for a break on her fourth try yet found herself again swiftly 0-30 down in her own game, and the pressure started to tell. With Putintseva becoming a lot sharper in terms of winners instead of coaxing errors from Konta, she swiftly broke and consolidated for a 4-1 lead.
The double-break cushion was enough for Putintseva to ride out the match, for her first win over the Brit, and on this surface to boot.
There are usually two modes to a Konta press conference. More often than not, she has had time to reflect on the match, perhaps talk with her coach and formulate her thoughts on the subject. This press conference was not especially late (we have been known to be able to go grab more than just a passing nibble while waiting for her to come into press, this time it was a grab-and-go crepe).
On her assessment of the match as a while, she said: “Actually, to be honest, I think the whole match really didn’t feel like a great match for me, quite honestly. It was just — I never really quite found my rhythm. I never really quite found the way I wanted to play. And I think, obviously, there’s some of that to do with her. I think she played quite smart. Otherwise, I think I just had a bad match.”
Inevtiably the narrative tends to focus on the fact that despite having made it through rounds of matches in qualifying, Konta has yet to get a main draw win. We have seen her work hard to contain her emotions, but here it seemed more like to contain her annoyance, mainly at herself for the loss.
She added: “I would like to think that we’re not heading to a self-fulfilling prophecy here. I don’t think helps anyone’s preparation if the linger around it is like, Oh, she hasn’t done well there before.
“Again, I have felt success here before through qualifying and coming through that. And, actually, out of my four main draw matches that I’ve played here, this is probably the one I’m most disappointed in terms of the level that I played. So, for me, this one is a bit harder to take in that way. But I would like to think that I’m still more in control of kind of my tennis and my career than any sort of superstition coming into any tournament.”
Defiant – no change in her game style and a vow to prove the narratives wrong
The one thing that impressed about Konta in hed breakthrough year of 2016 was that she could figyre the answers out on court. She would often find herself coming from a set behind, and would battle her way out of trouble, but we have seen repeatedly that if and when the wheels come off, it cam be a swift crunch at the end of the road, but Konta was not there to entertain any thoughts of Plan B’s and some kind of Rolanf Garros hex.
She said: “That’s the way I play. That’s how I play my best tennis. Now, I’m not going to change that, because then I won’t be doing myself justice, and I won’t be giving myself the best chance of actually coming through a match.
“There’s no Plan B for how I play. Obviously, I could have done a better job of just being that much tighter on my first balls, on my returns, on just being a bit more solid within that. But within the way I play, that’s not going to change.”
However the frustration both at the loss and of course the less desirable part of the job in having to face the press after that finally bubbled up to the surface.
She continued: “You guys can answer this for me, then. If every time you went in to work, let’s say you went into work because – obviously, you travel, and let’s say for a few years your pieces of writing have just been crap every time when you come into Roland Garros. Right? Just crap. And then your colleagues start to say, You know, you really suck around that time. And that happens, you know, for a few years.
“How would you guys digest that, and would you feel any sort of lingering kind of, ‘oh, you know what? I want to prove these bastards wrong,’ but, you know, it’s just kind of lingering there. So it’s not something I would like to buy into, and I don’t think I do. However, you guys don’t make it easy, (smiling).
Konta’s time at Roland Garros will continue in the doubles with Alison Riske.
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