Johanna Konta claimed the most significant scalp of her career yesterday as the 24-year-old Briton continued her remarkable run at the Wuhan Open in China with a stunning victory over Simona Halep, the world No 2. Konta was trailing 5-1 in the final set but staged a thrilling comeback to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. She is the first British woman to beat such a highly-ranked opponent since Sue Barker beat Tracy Austin, then the world No 2, in Brighton 34 years ago.
Konta, who meets Venus Williams in today’s quarter-finals, has beaten a succession of leading players this summer, but this was her first win over a top-five opponent. Halep has won three titles this year and is one of the most consistent performers on the tour, having won more matches on hard courts in 2015 than any other woman.
The Romanian appeared to be closing in on victory in the final set, only for Konta to win the last six games in a row. Halep was broken twice when she served for the match and again at 5-5 before Konta secured her victory after two and a quarter hours.
“I wasn’t really thinking ahead or behind,” Konta said afterwards. “I was quite content just to stay in the point that I was playing. I guess there’s a grand old saying: ‘It’s never over until you shake hands.’ I wasn’t actively thinking ‘Yeah, I can win this’ or ‘Oh, it’s over’. I was just trying to stay out there as long as possible and keep fighting on every single point.”
She added: “I really did not go out there thinking that I was playing the No 2 and I’m No 66. I don’t really have any desire to belong in a certain place. I’m very content to just enjoy myself and really fight hard against every single opponent that I play, whatever their ranking. But she is No 2 for a reason and it’s an incredibly humbling experience for me to compete with such a player.”
Halep, who said she could not explain why the match had slipped away from her, gave Konta credit. “She has a good serve,” Halep said. “She hits the ball pretty strong. She’s moving well. She’s a good player.”
Konta has never played Williams before. “It’s actually a bit of a childhood dream,” the Briton said. “I grew up watching Venus, so in terms of as a child, I’m like: ‘Wow!’ But as a competitor now, I’m just looking forward to the challenge. I’ll just be going out there with the same game plan, just fighting for every point. ”
Nineteen of the world’s top 20 players entered the Wuhan tournament, which carries significant prize money and ranking points. Konta, who was already guaranteed to take over from Heather Watson as the British No 1, could break into the world’s top 50 next week. Less than four months ago she was ranked No 147 in the world.
Konta has won 21 of the 22 matches she has played since Wimbledon. She won two tournaments on the International Tennis Federation circuit before reaching the fourth round of the US Open and has now won five matches in China. The win over Halep followed wins over Andrea Petkovic and Victoria Azarenka, ranked No 16 and No 23 in the world respectively.
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