With newly installed coach Dmitri Zavialoff watching on, Johanna Konta demonstrated the kind of grit that heralded her ascent up the rankings in 2016, as she downed the No. 3 seed Sloane Stephens. While the WTA Finals runner-up is traveling with Sylvester Black while on a break from the charismatic Kamau Murray, she looked as though she was lacking in ideas as the frustration grew, despite Stephens looking the more likely to get a breakthrough.
Konta’s first couple of service games were long, drawn-out affairs with Stephens being much more of the aggressor and Konta having to defend against break points in both. Perhaps not being able to get that breakthrough against the Brit was playing on Stephens’ mind as Konta was the first to break.
It did not go all her way from that point though – Konta looked a little jumpy trying to serve for the first set, getting broken to love, before hitting back immediately to break for the lead. It was that presence of mind that Konta needed to come back at Stephens again in the second set to erase the break against her, and after breaking Stephens once more, Konta banged down a serve to love to get into the second round.
Talking to reporters after the match, Stephens felt she had been sticking to her game plan and credited Konta: I felt fine. I did all the things I worked on in my off-season, so I can’t be too upset. Obviously I played Jo, a great player. She played a good match, and obviously the first match of the year is never easy. And so I think I’m just really proud I did all the things that I said I was going to do.”
After a tough 2018 and indeed second half of 2017, this was Konta’s 15th career win over a Top 10 opponent, and her first since that gripping quarter-final win over Simona Halep in Wimbledon 2017.
Konta stressed it was not worth trying to live in the past of former glories, but rather moving forward.
As reported on the Brisbane International website, she said: “I think the most important thing is to keep moving forward. I’m not trying to recreate something I had. I’m trying to create something new and something better. I just keep looking ahead and trusting in the work I do. Nothing is every smooth sailing.”
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It will be déjà vu for the Brit when she faces Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round – she beat the Aussie here last year on her way to the quarter-final last year. It could come down to who can keep their serve functioning better. Konta dug herself out of trouble with some big serving, and if that is working for her, then her game seems to fall into place.
The Croatian turned Aussie has a very solid serve and backs it up with a strong backhand. Konta will need to play as aggressively as she did on Tuesday and she certainly warmed to the task as the match went on. Tomljanovic had to come from a set down to secure her spot in the second round but admitted it had felt quite scrappy – she might have to expect more of the same.
Prediction: Konta in three sets.
Konta & Tomljanovic are scheduled on Show Court 1, not before 4:30pm (6:30am GMT)
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