Australian Open '“ Return to form sets Johanna Konta back on path to success

Johanna Konta is pleased to be playing tennis on her terms again after pulling off her best grand slam victory since reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals.

Britain's Johanna Konta reacts after winning a point against Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic Picture: AP/Kin Cheung.
Britain's Johanna Konta reacts after winning a point against Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic Picture: AP/Kin Cheung.

The 27-year-old survived a deciding tie-break to defeat powerful Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6 (7/4) 2-6 7-6 (10/7) and set up a second-round clash with former Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza at Melbourne Park.

Since making the last four at SW19 in 2017, Konta has suffered burnout and this was only her third win at a slam since, and certainly the most significant, not least for the way she stayed mentally strong at the end of the tie-break.

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She finished things off in style with a forehand winner into the corner, and said afterwards: “I didn’t get to win as many of these matches last year.

United States' Serena Williams, left, is congratulated by Germany's Tatjana Maria in Melbourne. AP/Kin Cheung

“Overall I’m just very happy to have been able to stay there with her when she was also playing well but then play a lot of tennis on my terms as well, which was important for me to learn from.

“The conditions were tough. I was just happy I was able to compete hard every single point.”

Konta lost to Tomljanovic in another tight clash in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago and there was little to choose between the pair throughout.

Konta showed signs of mental fragility in the second set when she was broken for 2-4, one wild forehand volley particularly errant, while a sudden flurry of drop shots at the start of the deciding tie-break also back-fired.

But she was rock solid when it really mattered, becoming the second British player after Katie Boulter to win via the new tie-break format.

Konta also learned from Boulter, who prematurely celebrated against Ekaterina Makarova when she reached seven points, which would signal the end of a conventional tie-break.

All the grand slams now have a different format to end matches, and Konta said: “I don’t know why it is to 10 – I think all the slams are getting excited and doing something different.

“I was very conscious to not get excited if I got to seven. I saw Katie yesterday and thought: ‘That would be me’.”

Konta is now looking forward to taking on Muguruza, who also plummeted down the rankings in a difficult 2018.

The Spaniard was a significant figure in Konta’s impressive rise in 2015, with the British player winning tight clashes at Eastbourne and the US Open - a three-hour epic that at the time was the longest women’s match in New York since the introduction of the tie-break.

They have not played since, and Konta said: “She’s a great player. She’s got two grand slam titles to her name. She plays big tennis. She competes very well. So that will be a big challenge to me.”

Muguruza has slipped from No 1 in the rankings in September 2017 to 18 now, but Konta said: “For someone to win two grand slam titles - and I think she is still ranked in the top 20 - she is a heck of a player.

“I don’t think she is vulnerable – I think she is doing very well and I am looking forward to playing her again.”

Muguruza, who defeated Zheng Saisai 6-2 6-3, can empathise with Konta’s struggles, saying: “I think people that have an aggressive game, they have good moments and not as good moments.

“I think that the ones that play well can always play well. It’s just that they take more risk. It’s a tough second round, because she can play very well.”

Serena Williams made a storming return to the grand slam stage to set up a second-round clash with a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard.

The Canadian, who soared into the top 10 in 2014, dropped as low as 193 in the rankings last season but has worked her way back into double figures and a 6-2 6-1 victory over Peng Shuai earned her a shot at the title favourite.

Williams played her first competitive match since her tumultuous defeat by Naomi Osaka in the US Open final in September and was in devastating form, beating neighbour and fellow mother Tatjana Maria 6-0 6-2 in just 49 minutes.shown the ability to rise to the big occasion.

World No 1 Simona Halep avoided losing to Kaia Kanepi in the first round for the second successive slam, coming from a set down to win 6-7 (2) 6-4 6-2.

The victory ended a five-match losing streak for the top seed, who was troubled by a back problem at the end of last season.

Venus Williams looked to be heading out of the tournament at a set and 5-3 down to 25th seed Mihaela Buzarnescu, but recovered to win 6-7 (3) 7-6 (3) 6-2.

There was no happy return to the tournament she has won twice for Victoria Azarenka, who fell 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-2 to Germany’s Laura Siegemund.

Fourth seed Osaka was a 6-4 6-2 winner over Magda Linette and there were victories for Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys and Garbine Muguruza, but 10th seed Daria Kasatkina lost 6-3 6-0 to Timea Bacsinszky.