Konta’s roar power ends Rome battle
THE loud roar from Johanna Konta said it all. Roberta Vinci, world No7 and US Open finalist, had just been sent crashing out of the Italian Open on her home turf.
And while Konta’s 6-0, 6-4 second-round win, and second top-10 scalp of her career, would not have surprised anyone who has followed her meteoric rise over the past 12 months, it signalled that the British No1 is finding form right on time for the French Open.
Vinci has always struggled to handle the pressure of competing in Rome and she initially appeared in danger of major humiliation, managing just seven points in the opening set as Konta relentlessly drove her into the corners and attacked the net.
She rallied briefly, roused by a frenzy of cheering from the locals during a marathon eighth game of the second set, with Konta saving four break points, but ultimately the Briton’s all-court tennis was not to be denied.
“It was like a football match during that game,” said Konta. “But for me it doesn’t really matter if the crowd’s against me, just having that energy and noise around you is a very exciting thing as a player.”
Konta reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, and while she remains a relative novice on the red dirt – yesterday’s victory was just her second on the WTA Tour on the surface – she is improving rapidly.
“I need to put in a lot more hours on clay,” she said. “It’s my first year playing regularly at this level. I’ve never competed at this event before, but I’m enjoying adapting my game.”
Andy Murray was relegated to one of the outer stadiums for his opening clash against the Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, a qualifier with plenty of grit but little to hurt the Scot.
Murray has spent the past few days fending off questions about his coaching split with Amelie Mauresmo, but he put those off-court distractions to one side as he eased to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
“I served very well,” he said. “That won me a lot of free points. I didn’t feel great from the back of the court and made a few mistakes which I didn’t feel like I was making a few days ago.
“I did find it a bit difficult. It’s a big change in the conditions. Madrid is a lot faster while the clay here is very heavy.”
If Murray reaches the final this week he will overtake Roger Federer to ensure second seeding for the French Open, and he admitted that is at the back of his mind.
“I don’t know exactly what I need to do to guarantee being No2 but obviously it helps a bit at the Slams,” he said. “It would be nice if I can manage it.”
Heather Watson faces a nail-biting few weeks in her bid to qualify for the Rio Olympics after a disappointing 6-4, 6-2 defeat by Czech Barbora Strycova.
World No55 Watson needs to stay inside the top 56 come June 6 to secure her ticket to Brazil.