Konta shocks Venus in first round
Originally published on 19/01/16 00:00
This time last year Konta was ranked No.150 in the world and lost in the first round of qualifying at Melbourne Park. Fast forward 12 months and the 24-year-old, playing on Rod Laver Arena for the first time, defeated the No.8 seed and seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams 6-4 6-2.
Konta's big breakthrough came at last year's US Open, where she came through qualifying to reach the fourth round, upsetting Garbine Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic before eventually falling to Petra Kvitova. Further wins against Petkovic, Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep in Asia saw Konta surge up the rankings, overtaking Heather Watson as British No.1.
Although she arrived in Melbourne after back-to-back defeats in Shenzhen and Hobart, Konta quickly rediscovered her giantkilling form on the big stage, where she broke Williams five times to claim the fourth top 10 win of her career.
It was not the first time Konta had met the American. The pair had met once before in Wuhan, where, despite taking the first set and then serving for the match in the third set Konta was defeated by Williams. The experience in Wuhan helped her in some respects.
“I had a better understanding, better feel of what kind of ball was going to be coming off her racket," she said. “I'm very happy with the game plan; I went out there with and just my ability to really stick with it, even when things were getting a bit close.”
Konta took the first set in 41 minutes, serving an ace to close it out. The Brit then broke again in the first game of the second set before racing into a 5-0 lead. Asked if she tensed up at that point, she replied: “Obviously there are nerves, and also the nerves of the many thousand people around you, which is impossible not to feel either. So just really focusing on my breathing and trying to stay very present.”
Talking on court after the match she joked that when she had seen the draw her thoughts had been to try and stay on court for an hour. But in an hour and 19 minutes she sealed her place in the second round and put an end to Venus Williams’ 16th appearance at Australian Open.
Konta was born in Sydney and lived in Australia until 2005. “My sister still lives here, so obviously I still have a family connection here. Australia is a beautiful country to have once called home and to always come visit,” she said.
She had never played on Rod Laver Arena but she does recall playing at Melbourne Park as a junior. “I remember playing under-12 nationals here, and it was a really, really long match on one of the outdoor courts. It was a very hot day. I remember both of us, the girl I was playing with [and I] kicking our shoes off because the rubber was melting and our feet were so hot."
She went on to tell the Australian journalists in the pressroom that she would not consider moving back as she considers the UK to be her home.
Her feet are still firmly on the ground despite the headline-making win. “If you live and die with your wins and losses, then it's a very painful road,” she said. "Just keep trucking on." In the second round she meets China’s Saisai Zheng, who defeated German Carina Witthoeft 6-1 6-2.