Johanna Konta sets her sights even higher after reaching French Open quarter-finals
Johanna Konta is delighted to be back in the quarter-finals of a grand slam - but the British number one does not want to stop there.
Konta produced one of the best displays of her career to defeat 23rd seed Donna Vekic 6-2 6-4 in the fourth round of the French Open and make the last eight at a slam for the fourth time.
Konta was already the first British woman through to the fourth round at Roland Garros since 1983 and she is now one win away from matching Jo Durie’s achievement of making the semi-finals that year.
It is by some distance her best grand slam run since she reached the last four at Wimbledon two years ago, after which she experienced feelings of burn-out and a dramatic slump in her fortunes.
“I have only been at this stage a handful of times,” said Konta. “So to be back here, I’m definitely very pleased.
“This is not my end goal or anything, I would love to be here until the very end, but I’m also doing my best at really enjoying the different matches I get to play and the different accomplishments that I get to experience. Today was definitely one.”
The British number one seems sure to face a tough match next against seventh seed and last year’s runner-up Sloane Stephens, who was a 6-4 6-3 winner over former champion Garbine Muguruza.
If she could come through that, though, the chance of a first grand slam final would certainly open up given the other match in her half is between two first-time quarter-finalists in Croatia’s Petra Martic and teenage Czech Marketa Vondrousova.
Going into the fourth round, only nine of the 32 seeds were left in the draw, with Saturday seeing the exits of world number one Naomi Osaka and 23-time grand slam singles champion Serena Williams.
Asked if there was a feeling everyone was beatable, Konta said: “I think that’s been the growing mood for quite some time now. It’s nice to see competitive matches and for people to also enjoy matches where nothing’s a given.”
Konta had produced a display of fierce but controlled hitting to swat aside Viktoria Kuzmova in the third round but Vekic was a step up in class.
The 22-year-old Croatian has had a very good season and had won her last two matches against Konta.
In all they had played six times previously, most memorably in the second round at Wimbledon in 2017, where Konta came through 10-8 in a deciding set.
Another close battle had been anticipated but the British number one took a grip of the match from the start and did not relent, serving powerfully and accurately and sending her ground strokes fizzing into the corners.
Konta broke Vekic’s serve three times in the opening set before clinching it with an ace after saving three break points with winners.
Her only missed step was allowing Vekic to break back for 4-4 in the second set, but Konta promptly broke again before serving out the match to love.
The 28-year-old said: “It was a good match. I thought I had very, very few drops in my level, which I think definitely kept the pressure on her.”
One impressed observer was former British number one Annabel Croft, who is working at Roland Garros for Eurosport and believes Konta is playing even better than when she was in the top 10.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen Jo Konta play this well to be honest, particularly on a clay court,” said Croft.
“It’s back to that sort of form that got her to the semis at the Australian Open and Wimbledon as well. But I think her level is even up a couple of notches.”
The transformation in Konta from a player who had never even won a main-draw match at Roland Garros to a quarter-finalist is quite something.
She has now won 14 tour-level matches on clay this season, twice as many as in the rest of her career combined, with only Martic able to boast more success on a surface that had been easily Konta’s weakest.