After a washed out day (the first in the history of the Rome tournament), British No. 1 Johanna Konta was down for an early start against Roland Garros 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens. It was a typically fast start from Konta who looks more and more as though she is comfortable on sea-level clay, as she swiftly leapt out to a 4-0 lead with two straight breaks of the Stephens’ serve.
Stephens began to rouse herself though, winning four games on the spin to erase the commanding lead, before the pair traded breaks towards the end of the set. But in the tie-break, it soon became one-way traffic for Stephens as she took a lead in the match.
Up to this point, this has been the only tour-level clay court tournament that Konta seems to have found comfortable, but she smashed that preconception with a run to the Rabat final.
Konta again took a lead in the second set only to be pegged back, but broke again at the end of the set, converting her second set point to level the match. Stephens’ frustrations grew evident as she went down an early break, and was then broken two more successive times as Konta kept her record of at least reaching the third round in Rome going.
Next up for Konta was 2006 champion and wild-card this year, Venus Williams, who advanced as a result of a walkover when her sister Serena withdrew due to a lingering knee injury. That being said, Williams, who came through a gruelling three-setter in her opener and it showed. Her opening serves were rolling in, and Williams could barely move at times towards the ball.
Konta did seem to struggle a little with what was happening over the other side of the net, as Williams found her way back into the match in the second set twice pegging Konta back each time she broke the American. Konta kept her nerve to get the decisive break at the end of the set before closing it out for a first Rome quarter-final. On the clay! Let that sink in for a while.
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If Konta had a big day taking out two of America’s biggest hitters, Marketa Vondrousova had an even bigger day taking out the reigning Roland Garros champion Simona Halep and then halting Daria Kasatkina to set up a quarter-final.
If our Brit, in the search for more variety to a game, wants to include those drops-hots in her game, she is going to get a real lesson from Vondrousova. In fact the young Czech moves very well, can hit a heavy ball, and will drop-shot Konta from Rome to Eastbourne, all day long.
However, towards the end of her match against Kasatkina, she looked to be struggling, almost buckling after a serve, and with some strategic tape. She will have been out on court a lot longer than Konta, who started the day with a tough three setter against Stephens but eased past Williams.
The Czech contributed to an early exit for Konta in Indian Wells last year, and there are a scant two positions between them in the rankings and this will be a tough ask. The Czech might have only played Istanbul prior to Rome, but she reached the final there and has to start as the favourite here. However, if her injury struggles continue, if Konta got this to three sets, she might have the edge.
Prediction: Vondrousova in straight sets.
Konta and Vondrousova are scheduled on Grandstand Court not before 3pm (2pm BST).
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