Ekaterina Makarova and Johanna Konta are known to play out thrilling matches, with their 2016 Australian Open encounter standing out. Their long-standing rivalry continued this year, but a surprising result emerged as the Russian finally earned her first-ever win over the Brit at the Rogers Cup, but not without going through a scenic route as she had to fend off two match points to prevail eventually.
This encounter was definitely a “Match of the Year” contender, with both players firing on all cylinders and coming up with some impressive winners. The high-quality match ended after two-hours, 26-minutes of play with Makarova coming from 5-7, 2-5 down to triumph.
Konta steals the first set
Having come into the match on a six-match winning streak after claiming the title in Washington before ousting Peng Shuai in the first round, Makarova was full of confidence and she managed to earn break points in the opening game but Konta’s powerful serving was just too good and saved her from the brink.
Nonetheless, Makarova still managed to grab the first break of the match, hitting a cross-court backhand winner to jump out to an early advantage. Looking dominant on her serve, the Russian consolidated the break for a 3-1 lead. The set went on serve until Konta conceded yet another break point in the sixth game, but this time Makarova wasn’t able to capitalize on her opportunities, allowing the Brit to take the confidence-boosting service hold.
That game proved to be the game changer as Makarova completely lost the plot on her serve, throwing in more unforced errors than usual which gave Konta a way back into the set. With eight of the last nine points going to Konta, the Russian found herself serving to stay in the set. Though she managed to get past the first hurdle, Makarova failed to deal with her nerves at 5-6, getting broken to love on the second occasion. As a result, Konta came out of nowhere to take the first set 7-5 after 49 minutes after the world number 42 threw in an unfortunate double-fault on set point.
Makarova completes improbable comeback
After an exchange of service holds, it was surprisingly Makarova who made the first breakthrough in the second set. Most fans would have thought that the Russian would fade away after throwing away the tight first set, but in fact, she continued to fight and give it her all. However, Konta was just too good as she increased her level of play as the match progressed, breaking straight back. The Brit seemed on course to claim the much-needed victory against a quality player after winning four straight games for a commanding 5-2 lead, dictating play throughout the rallies.
Facing the brink of defeat, Makarova, who was unseeded and unheralded, had nothing to lose and started to go for her shots. Her forehands were her biggest weapon, but Konta still barged her way to earn two match points. Ironically, Konta’s forehand errors caused her to blow the golden opportunities to close out the match and instead allowed Makarova to rattle off three straight games to level the scores. Though the seventh seed was able to grab a timely love service hold, Makarova ultimately sent the set into a tiebreaker. One mini-break was able to separate the two players as the Russian proved to be stronger, after all, completing the incredible comeback to take the second set 7-6 after 57 minutes of play.
The Russian prevails and seals the huge win
The final set was much of a different story as compared to the others. Both players were invincible on their serves and neither of them was able to make a breakthrough. Seven successive service holds followed, with the returners being only able to win a combined eight points.
Surprisingly, it was Makarova who finally earned the first break of the decider as the angles and power of her forehands were just too strong for Konta, whose baseline game was broken down by the Russian. Her lefty advantage allowed her to have more time to get on the offense, and she ultimately served out the match amidst the pressure weighing on her shoulders, sealing the win an hour after saving a match point.
Reaction from the victor
“I don’t know I was just keep fighting you know, believing in myself that I can win this match even if I lost 4 matches [to Konta] before. She’s a great player, it’s always tough to play against her but with this crowd, it was very nice to play. Thank you very much for the support!” Makarova mentioned during an on-court interview, speaking about how she fought back from the huge deficit. Coming into the match, Konta was labeled as a nemesis for the Russian, having a 0-4 head-to-head record against the seventh seed.
Aftermath: Konta struggles through the rest of the year
The loss was just Konta’s third first-round exit in 2017. However, this also marked the start of her rout as she went on to reach the quarterfinals in Cincinnati before ending the year on a disappointing five-match losing streak. The Brit was tipped to progress deep in all the tournaments, but her poor form and injury struggles hindered her from achieving more, missing out on a place at the WTA Finals once more.
Whereas, Makarova continued to rattle off the upsets against the top-10 players, defeating then-world number three Angelique Kerber in the following week before overturning a 0-7 head-to-head deficit to defeat Caroline Wozniacki at the US Open. The Russian ended the year with an incredible nine top-10 wins, the third-highest on the tour.