Johanna Konta powered her way into the last eight of the Australian Open
On Wednesday she will face the mighty Serena Williams for a place in the semi-finals of the Australian Open and there is a growing belief that she just might win.
Konta powered her way through to the quarter-finals, taking 69 minutes to overwhelm Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4 on Monday. This was the woman who kept Konta on court for more than three hours last year at the same stage of the competition and yet 12 months on, Konta blew her away.
Britain’s No1 has dropped just 22 games in the five hours and nine minutes it has taken her to reach the last eight. Williams, by contrast, has dropped 27 games in five hours and 34 minutes.
Those statistics do not go unnoticed by the good and the great and after watching Konta develop into a top-10 player in the past year, Martina Navratilova thinks Williams will have a fight on her hands tomorrow.
“Jo just keeps improving,” Navratilova said. “You never know how much people will keep improving, but she’s definitely going in the right direction.
Johanna Konta has been backed to continue her fine form
“Most of all she looks the part, she looks like she belongs, she feels she belongs here, she’s not an imposter and she’s got the weapons to go with it.
“She’s improved her movement, her shot selection, cleaned up the middle-ground game. Everything has improved.
“If she keeps that belief – you have to almost talk your way into it. She’s never beaten Serena Williams. But that full confidence can do wonders for you and she’s backed it up with tennis, so impressive.
“She’s worked her way up and she is going to be here for a while. If she stays healthy, the sky is the limit.”
Serena Williams represents Johanna Konta's toughest test yet
“She is the greatest player to be playing right now,” Konta said. “She has pretty much done it all in our sport and very few people get to do that in whatever discipline they do. Because she has made herself such an icon she has that effect on people.
“I really am looking forward to playing her. I have never been on court with her so I am looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to competing, and really going out there and trusting in my own system and trusting in the good things that I bring to the court. I will definitely cherish every single second out there.”
When the Melbourne numbers are crunched, there is barely a fag paper between Konta and Williams. They are ranked joint seventh in the tournament for their shot-making – 23 per cent of their strokes have been winners. Williams has a few more forehand winners, Konta is better on the backhand.
Konta is happy, relaxed and seemingly free of pressure. She grew up watching both Williams sisters and dreamed that one day she would be like them. Having beaten Venus twice, she now cannot wait to have a crack at Serena.
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But it is in the unforced errors that Konta wins out; only 17 per cent of her shots are errors while 26 per cent of Williams’s attempts go awry. Konta plays a cleaner game than Williams but whether that will be enough tomorrow, only time will tell.
“Whoever gets on the offence first will probably win that point,” Navratilova predicted. “Just try to use controlled aggression, pick your spots and, most of all, hit with conviction.
“It almost doesn’t matter where you’re going to hit the shot as long as you commit to it. If you commit to it, whether it’s down the line or cross court, you’re good. If you don’t commit to it, you hit down the line or cross court, you’re going to miss and it’s not going to be hit so well, so just commit to the shot.”
Konta has been committed to every shot since she arrived in Australia. It won her the Sydney title the week before the Australian Open began and it might just bring her victory tomorrow. In a tournament of shocks and upsets, no one would be surprised.