2019 French Open: Johanna Konta and Marketa Vondrousova Reach Semifinals
PARIS — On her first four trips to the French Open, Johanna Konta could seemingly do nothing right. This time, she can do no wrong.
The 26th-seeded Konta reached the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-4 demolition of the seventh-seeded Sloane Stephens on Tuesday afternoon, taking firm control of the match early in the first set and never relinquishing it.
Konta, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017, had never won a main-draw match at Roland Garros before this year, falling in the first round four times. With five wins to get to the semifinals, she suddenly has a winning record at the tournament that had been the least successful of her career.
Konta, 28, of Britain, will have a chance for a sixth straight victory, and a spot in her first Grand Slam final, when she faces the unseeded Marketa Vondrousova, 19, who prevailed in a topsy-turvy tussle against the 31st-seeded Petra Martic, 7-6 (1), 7-5. It will Vondrousova’s first Grand Slam semifinal.
Vondrousova, ranked 38th, was down triple set point at 5-6 in the first set before reeling off 12 of the next 13 points to dig out of the deficit and run away with the ensuing tiebreaker. She then went up by 5-2 in the second set before Martic staged her own comeback, leveling the match before Vondrousova finally claimed the win on her fourth match point.
Vondrousova, a left-hander with a whipping forehand and a proclivity for drop shots, will test Konta’s newfound dexterity and comfort on the clay.
“There’s things that I do well which are effective against everyone,” Konta said of her next opponent. “It’s just finding that right balance of when I can do that, and when I need to add something else.”
There were few adjustments needed for Konta against Stephens on Tuesday. After a competitive first three games, Konta broke for a 3-1 lead in the first set and did not look back. With Stephens down by 1-4, Konta ripped two consecutive return winners to give herself three break points.
Stephens, often languid between points, seemed to slow even further, trudging to her service position as if resigned to her fate. She fended off the first two break points, but Konta converted on her third with a forehand cross-court winner.
“There is not much you can do when someone is playing like that,” Stephens said.
When Stephens held for 1-2 in the second set to end a skid of seven consecutive games, she screamed with catharsis. Konta, who already had beaten Stephens twice this year, was undaunted. She won her first four service games of the second set to love, and her first 18 points on serve over all.
Stephens, who used her world-class defense to reach the final at Roland Garros last year, said a lack of clay dust atop the windswept court made it tougher for her to gain a foothold against the Konta onslaught.
“Clay is a neutralizer, but there wasn’t very much clay on the court today,” Stephens said. “So that was a little bit tough. She likes to play on hard court and grass, and the court was very fast today, and I think that kind of worked in her favor, obviously. Her serving on a court that was playing a lot different than we had been playing on previously, that was a little bit tricky.”
Konta double faulted on her 19th service point of the set, but it proved only a blip. She won the next two points to close out the match in 1 hour 10 minutes, ending on a forehand error by Stephens that Konta confidently circled for an inspection and overrule by the chair umpire Louise Engzell.
That sort of confidence, which Konta had shown in becoming a top-five player years ago, had been missing in recent years. Dimitri Zavialoff, who has previously coached Stan Wawrinka and the two-time French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky, has restored Konta’s foundering confidence this year by empowering her to make her own choices.
Under Zavialoff, whom she has worked with since October, Konta is having the most successful clay-court campaign of her career, reaching finals in Rabat and Rome before her run in Paris.
“He’s been great in just encouraging me, inviting me, and giving me the space to play the way I want to play and not putting too many restraints or restrictions on myself,” Konta said. “I’m just enjoying that almost self-discovery process of being the player who I want to be and trusting the decisions I make out there.”
After falling to 50th in the rankings during the past season, Konta is poised to re-enter the top 20. With a title on Saturday, Konta would rejoin the top 10.
Showing her comfort level on the surface that requires the most versatility, Konta was able to dominate not just with her offense, but also with counterpunching. After one particularly deep and well hit Stephens forehand in the first game of the second set, Konta hit a looping, high bouncing forehand that kicked off the far baseline and high over Stephens’s head. Stephens leapt for a high backhand stab, but she could barely get her racket on the ball.
On break point, Konta rushed Stephens by coming to the net, forcing Stephens to hit a forehand passing shot wide.
After the third round, Stephens, the 2017 United States Open champion, was the highest remaining seed in the bottom half of the draw and had been considered the favorite to reach the final.
Her exit leaves two Americans — Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova — in contention for the title. In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Keys, the No. 14 seed, will take on eighth-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia, while 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova will try to upset the defending champion Simona Halep of Romania.