Konta holds nerve to seal vic­tory in bat­tle of Bri­tons

➤ Wat­son al­lows six set points to slip to miss out in tie-break ➤ Bri­tish No 1 sprints clear to set up match against Cirstea

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport / Us Open - By Si­mon Briggs

Af­ter beat­ing her near­est com­peti­tor within the Bri­tish game, Jo­hanna Konta ac­knowl­edged that last night’s first-round match in New York had been freighted with un­usu­ally high lev­els of anx­i­ety.

Yet it was Konta’s op­po­nent, her friend and long-time ri­val Heather Wat­son, who seemed to find those ten­sions harder to deal with. Wat­son was ar­guably the bet­ter player for most of the first hour but she crum­bled when the heat was on, al­low­ing six set points to slip. From then on, her frus­tra­tions preyed on her mind and it was Konta who sprinted to a 7-6, 6-1 vic­tory.

“There is more in­ter­est at home, so there will be more opin­ions from peo­ple at home,” Konta said. “Ob­vi­ously we spend a lot of time to­gether. There’s al­ways go­ing to be ri­valry be­tween com­pa­tri­ots.”

The nar­ra­tive felt as though it echoed the wider sweep of their re­spec­tive ca­reers. Wat­son was the quicker out of the blocks, in the same way that she and Laura Rob­son had been the golden girls of Bri­tish tennis around the turn of the 21st cen­tury.

But Konta stayed calm, even as it looked as if she might fall de­ci­sively be­hind. She kept work­ing, kept plac­ing her faith in her sim­ple method: boom­ing cross-court fore­hands and pin­point serves. As time went on, the sheer weight of rep­e­ti­tion car­ried her away from her op­po­nent.

“Jo han­dled the cir­cum­stances well,” said Anne Keothavong, the Bri­tish Fed Cup cap­tain and for­mer No 1, who was com­men­tat­ing on Ama­zon Prime. “It’s never easy play­ing a fel­low Brit, par­tic­u­larly when it’s some­one you get on well with. There was mu­tual re­spect.

“It was an im­pres­sive tie-break from Jo to come from 6-3 down. When it re­ally mat­tered, un­for­tu­nately Wat­son was too pas­sive. On three out of those four set points, Jo came up with a big serve and was too good. But on one of those set points, that slice back­hand on ball three, that will prob­a­bly give her night­mares.” Konta thus earned a sec­on­dround tie to­mor­row against So­rana Cirstea, a Ro­ma­nian player she crushed 6-2, 6-2 in their only meet­ing on the grass of East­bourne three years ago. In the mean­time, she will prob­a­bly go back on the golf sim­u­la­tor, which she has been en­joy­ing dur­ing her time off. “Be­ing here is like a cruise,” she said in her post-match in­ter­view. “Like we are some­where in the mid­dle of the Pa­cific and can­not get off the boat. That’s the sce­nario. I don’t feel like I am in New York. “Some­times I see the sky­line of Man­hat­tan and I am like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s there.’ At the warm-up event, I thought to my­self, ‘I have no idea what day it is, what round it is, what tour­na­ment it is – it’s one of those ground­hog days’.” Mean­while, there was sad news from Carla Suaraz Navarro, the stylish Span­ish base­liner who has been ranked No6 in the world. She had de­clined to come to New York on med­i­cal grounds and yes­ter­day re­vealed that she had been di­ag­nosed with Hodgkin lym­phoma, which will re­quire six months of chemo­ther­apy.

At 31, Suarez Navarro had al­ready an­nounced that this would be her last sea­son on the pro­fes­sional tour. “I have to face re­al­ity,” she said. “It is time to ac­cept it and try to get ahead re­ly­ing on med­i­cal ad­vice. Al­ways with pos­i­tiv­ity in the face of ad­ver­sity. Pa­tience and self-be­lief guided me through my ca­reer. Not the eas­i­est ri­val to deal with. I’ll need my truly best.” Ser­ena Wil­liams opened her cam­paign with a 7-5, 6-3 win over fel­low Amer­i­can Kristie Ahn.

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