One of the breakthrough players on the WTA Tour over the past few seasons has been world number nine Johanna Konta, with the Brit looking for another strong run at the Australian Open when the tournament begins in a few days time.
Konta has made it to the second week at the past two tournaments in Melbourne, playing impressive tennis on both occasions, and will be looking for another strong run at the tournament after a slight dip in form since Wimbledon in 2017. With the tournament so open, is Konta capable of making another huge breakthrough?
After just missing out on qualification for the WTA Finals in 2016, it seemed that the Brit was well on her way to reaching Singapore in 2017, though some poor form at the end of the season saw her miss out once again.
The Brit started the season brightly, beating Agnieszka Radwanska in the Sydney International final to win her second WTA title. She was able to back that up with a strong run in Melbourne, beating the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Ekaterina Makarova before losing to eventual champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinal, and rebounded from an early loss in Indian Wells to capture the biggest title of her career at the Miami Open, beating Wozniacki in the final. She had a disappointing clay court season, losing in the first round of the French Open, though went on to reach the final in Nottingham and then went on a historic run at Wimbledon, beating the likes of Caroline Garcia and Simona Halep before losing to Venus Williams in the last four.
Konta rose to a career-high ranking of fourth following that run though things went downhill for the Brit after that. She lost in her first match in Toronto to Makarova, despite holding match points, and though she reached the last eight in Cincinnati, she then fell in the first round of the US Open to Aleksandra Krunic. She followed that with an opening round loss in Tokyo to Barbora Strycova, and also fell in her opening matches in both Wuhan and Beijing. Having fallen out of the top eight of the Road To Singapore, Konta eventually called off the rest of her season due to injury.
Australian Open preparation
Konta has been able to get some match practice ahead of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, but may be far from satisfied with her opening two tournaments of the year.
Seeded fifth, she started her season at the Brisbane International. Konta had an incredibly tough first round opponent in Madison Keys, though fought from a set down to beat the US Open finalist in a high-quality encounter. She then came from a set down again to beat Ajla Tomljanovic and started incredibly well against third seed Elina Svitolina in the last eight, though was eventually forced to retire to the Ukrainian in the final set.
Konta recovered in time to defend her title at the Sydney International, where she was the fourth seed. Remarkably, she was drawn against Agnieszka Radwanska, who she beat in the final in 2017, though it was not the same result as the Pole prevailed in straight sets; she will be looking to pick up some confidence in her opening round matches in Melbourne.
Best Australian Open run
As previously mentioned, Konta reached the quarterfinal at the tournament last year, though her best run came the season before that, where she made a huge breakthrough and reached the last four.
After a strong end to 2015, Konta was just inside the top 50 at the start of the tournament, and began in incredibly impressive style, shocking eighth seed Venus Williams in straight sets to start her campaign. The Brit impressed again as she saw off Zheng Saisai for the loss of just five games in the second round, before dropping just one less game in the third round as she eased past Denisa Allertova to reach the fourth round.
Appearing in the second week of a Grand Slam tournament for second consecutive Grand Slam tournament, the Brit faced a tough task against former Australian Open semifinalist and 21st seed Ekaterina Makarova; however, she prevailed 8-6 in the final set to reach her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal. There, she ended the dream run of qualifier Zhang Shuai in straight sets, before falling to eventual champion and seventh seed Angelique Kerber.
Her form over the past few months has not been ideal, though there were some encouraging signs in Brisbane and there can be no doubt that she is able to play well in Melbourne. If she plays well and gets a good draw, it seems more than possible that Konta could go on another deep run at the tournament.