Johanna Konta uses big words, according to Naomi Osaka, but the British No 1 had bigger shots, too, in her straight-sets win over the Japanese at the Australian Open.
Osaka is widely considered a future star of the women’s game, with her booming serve and blistering forehand, but Konta handed the 19-year-old a lesson in ruthlessness on Rod Laver Arena.
The Briton’s 6-4 6-2 victory showed the sort of form that will have the draw’s biggest names taking notice, but Osaka was impressed by Konta for another reason.
“I heard her talk and she sounds really intelligent. It’s just, like: ‘Oh my God, I sound illiterate or something’,” said Osaka.
“I can see that she’s very focused. She uses big words - like, big words. I can’t say the words that she’s saying. She uses big words in her accent, and it sounds really smart.”
Osaka’s sense of awe perhaps comes from her own desire to replicate Konta’s rise, which has seen the Briton surge from 150th three years ago to ninth.
Konta reached the semi-finals in Melbourne last year and she is closing in on the second week again here, with Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki up next.
“While we were doing the five-minute warm-up, the presenter was going through how I did last year, and how I’m back here now,” said Konta.
“That gave me goosebumps a little bit, just because it has kind of come full circle with one season I guess. That made me feel a bit warm inside.”
Konta’s status as a genuine contender to win the first grand slam of the year is credit, in part, to her mental resilience, which was in evidence again in the pressure moments against Osaka.
Wozniacki does not possess Osaka’s weapons but will offer a far sterner test as the 17th seed and resurgent after reaching the US Open semi-finals in September.
“I’m very happy to have come through that,” Konta said.
“Naomi is obviously a great server and a big ball striker. I was definitely keen on making my stamp in the match, and I feel like I managed to do that as the match went on.”
Konta is the last British player in the women’s draw after Heather Watson endured a painful defeat to American qualifier Jennifer Brady.
Watson squandered five match points and nine break points in the deciding set before losing 2-6 7-6 (7/3) 10-8 to a player ranked 117th in the world and making her debut at a grand slam.
“It was a tough day especially because of the scoreline and having match points,” said Watson said. “It’s one of the worst ways to lose.
“On the match points, only one I can remember having a rally. Otherwise, I think she served very well.”