Johanna Konta became the first British woman since Sue Barker in 1977 to reach the Australian Open semifinals with a thorough 6-4, 6-1 victory over Chinese qualifier Shuai Zhang.
Konta jumps out to early lead, closes out set on second attempt
The strength of Konta's game is her serve and it was evident as this match began, the Brit losing just two points on her opening three service games. During that span, she built a 5-2 lead, breaking Zhang at 1-all, Zhang wasting a 40-30 lead and her serve gone when Konta's cross-court backhand, her best shot, forced hang into a weak reply, her backhand well wide. She broke again at 4-2 ahead, a forehand ripped down the line putting her one game from the set.
Showing remarkable poise in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, Konta toed the line to serve out the set, but cracked for the first time. Unable to serve out the set, Zhang was gifted a break when Konta double faulted. Zhang held for 5-4 and Konta, now under pressure for the first time, would get another chance to serve it out. Finally, on her sixth set point, she was able to clinch the set as Zhang could barely get her racket on a powerful Konta serve down the middle.
Konta takes advantage of tired Zhang, wins second set easily to reach semifinals
Understandably tired from playing her seventh match in just about two weeks, Zhang wilted to open the second set, her serve broken for the third time as Konta stepped in and crushed a backhand down the line for the opening game of the set. Showing why she defeated Simona Halep, Alize Cornet, Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys,
Zhang was able to break back, only to see her short-lived revival stopped as Konta would once again break the Chinese's serve. Untroubled on her serve next game, the Brit put the match away, a wobbling backhand volley not even coming close to going over the net from Zhang. At this point, the outcome was determined as Konta led 4-1 in the second set. She would fight off a final break point in her next service game and sealed the victory with an exclamation point, breaking Zhang one final time, a forehand kissing off of the net to send Konta to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Konta talks about her victory
“I’m very proud with how I was able to just keep focus and just keep going,” she said. “I didn’t feel I did much wrong. She definitely raised her level and made me work for it. It was a great battle to be a part of.”
On her run in Melbourne: “It really comes down to a number of things,” she said when asked to explain it. “I think really understanding why I was playing the sport and really finding my enjoyment within the sport, really separating that enjoying from results is a huge factor. If you win and die with your wins and losses, it’s an incredibly tough lifestyle to live.”
“I'm incredibly humble and grateful for the position that I'm in. Trust me, I understand how much this means to my family, to the people that have stuck by me through years and years and years of ups and downs,” she pointed out.
“But in terms of what it means to me, I'm just so happy that I'm enjoying what I'm doing. That is me living my dream. You know, yeah, when I was a little girl I dreamt of winning Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world. That dream stays the same.”