Beat a 19-year-old ranked 38th in the world and a place in the French Open final is yours; that’s the task facing Jo Konta.
Marketa Vondrousova’s straight sets win over Petra Martic in the quarters, means that she will stand across the net from the Brit this Friday after the match was resheduled due to rain.
The 19-year-old Vondrousova, yet another talented Czech from their production line, is into her first major semi-final. As for Konta, this will be her third outing in the last four of a grand slam after the 2016 Australian Open and Wimbledon 2017.
Reaching this stage of a major is a significant milestone for the 28-year-old, both in terms of her career and her country. First, it’s great to see her back at a world-class level after a difficult 15 months.
Konta reached a career-high ranking of World No. 4 in July 2017 thanks to a couple of titles (Miami, Sydney) early in the season and that stellar run at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
The Eastbourne resident hung in or around the top 10 until March 2018 when her form dipped. Konta has been through five coaches over the past few years seeking solutions but seems to have found a positive connection with her latest hire, Dimitri Zavialoff (below left).
Since they joined together last October, Konta’s ranking has shifted from the 40’s to the 20’s and will rise again after this fortnight. What’s so surprising is that her confidence has recovered on the surface that’s usually been her worst – clay. Before this fortnight, Konta had lost in the first round of Roland Garros for four straight years. She’s already won five matches this time around, the last of which was a straight sets beating of last year’s finalist, Sloane Stephens.
Her new found prowess on the dirt is not a total shock though if you look at her results this season.
After a quiet start to 2019, Konta sprang into life at an international event in Rabat, Morocco. The 28-year-old strung four wins together there as she made the final. While she lost in three sets to Maria Sakkari in the championship match, the confidence gained clearly helped her a few weeks later in Rome.
At the Foro Italico, Konta belied her ranking and fear of the dirt as she defeated Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams and clay court maestro Kiki Bertens en route to the final. Only world No. 2 Karolina Pliskova prevented her from claiming the trophy.
Whatever mood she left Rome with came with her on the plane to Charles de Gaulle. After claiming that vital first-round victory at Roland Garros over German Antonia Lottner, Konta has only dropped one set since in wins over Lauren Davis, Viktoria Kuzmova, Donna Vekic and Stephens. The last name on that list is the most impressive scalp.
Konta was simply ruthless against the American on Tuesday, taking full advantage of Stephens’s overly-passive rallying. At her best, the Brit’s versatile serve and two-handed backhand were world class. They have returned along with added variety while her fitness and focus are as reliable as ever.
Apart from the personal feat of reaching another major semi-final, the 28-year-old broke one of Britain’s great tennis droughts this week. Before Tuesday, the last British woman to reach the semis of the French Open was Jo Durie in 1983. If Konta beats Vondrousova on Friday, she will also be the first British woman since 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade to participate in a major singles final.
While Konta will of course be determined to earn a spot in the final, she can only take positives from Paris should she lose. Finally back in form and playing brilliantly on her worst surface, imagine how confident she will feel on the lush grass of home in the coming weeks.