By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Jo Konta staggered away from a head-on collision with twice champion Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon on Monday for a three-set victory which put her in the quarter-finals, and instantly installed her among the favourites for the title.
The 4-6 6-2 6-4 win over the Czech had been a brutal affair, and in the end only Konta had been able to produce sufficient subtlety with which to temper the low-trajectory rockets which had been a feature for both players throughout the match.
For the purists, rallies were few and far between. But for the thrill-seekers, winners exploded repeatedly like a succession of fireworks in a night sky.
Indeed, the used tennis balls from this match, sold as souvenirs to the public, should come with a hefty discount – if there is anything left of them.
Like a Ford Escort stuck in high gear, sixth-seeded Kvitova had no change of pace, little nuance or subtlety, just a roaring engine battering the ball as hard as she could muster.
Even the sport’s ubiquitous topspin was only an occasional visitor as the Czech opened her grip and slammed each ball flat and hard – for a clean winner or a shot flying out the back.
For her part, 19th seed Konta — herself no stranger to the more brutal forms of baseline play — looked to fight firepower with firepower right from the off.
It was almost a case of who or what would crack first, a player’s nerve or a racket’s frame as shot after shot was slammed away for a winner and the eerie sonics echoed around Centre Court.
Games went with serve in a blur, with few chances of a break until the seventh game when Kvitova saved two break points to stave off danger and hold for 4-3.
A few games later, a double-fault here, a netcord winner there, and suddenly the opening set was over, 6-4 to Kvitova.
Something between a sigh and a groan escaped from the crowd as Kvitova pumped her fist and stalked back to her chair leaving Konta to wonder what had just happened and the British crowd to start contemplating what might have been.
But as soon as their hope in her looked as if it was starting to fade Konta hit back, breaking the Czech in the opening game of the second set then again for 3-0.
Kvitova had not changed her winning tactics – that wasn’t the issue. It was just that the balls which had been flying for winners were now creeping millimetres off target.
A bit of the zip had also gone out of her shots, which was perhaps unsurprising given the welly she put into the first set.
The Czech did just enough to keep her game simmering in preparation for a deciding set, which Konta ensured would happen by wrapping up the second 6-2.
As the crowd settled in for some continued barnstorming battery, Konta found some guile. A delicate backhand slice here and rolled forehand there seemed to take Kvitova by surprise and the Briton broke for a 2-1 lead in the decider.
Fittingly, though, the crucial break point winner was a slammed, subtlety-free zone — a shot which had been called out but which was ruled good by Hawk-Eye.
Including results at this tournament coming into this match, Konta had won 31 times on grass over the past four seasons, more than any other player on tour, and her comfort on the surface served her well.
The momentum with the home favourite, she hustled Kvitova into a series of errors and streaked into the lead.
Konta served for the match at 5-2 but was broken as the Czech found her range again to beat off two match points. Her next chance to seal victory came when serving at 5-4, and this time she made sure.
Next up Konta will face another Czech — the unseeded Barbora Strycova — with a potential semi-final against Serena Williams perhaps on the horizon.
(Reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Ken Ferris)