With the start of the Australian Open just three days away Johanna Konta recorded one of her finest victories to claim only the second title of her career. The 25-year-old Briton, hitting the ball as sweetly as she has ever done, beat the world No 3, Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 6-2 to win the Sydney International.
Dan Evans completed a fine evening for British tennis when he beat Andrey Kuznetsov 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to reach his first final on the main tour. The 26-year-old from Birmingham will face Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, who beat Viktor Troicki 6-3, 7-6, in Saturday’s final.
Earlier in the day Jamie Murray, playing alongside his partner Bruno Soares in the doubles, became another Briton to reach a final this weekend at the Olympic Park.
Konta’s victory could not have been sweeter. The world No 10, who is expected to climb one place in the rankings next week, was born in Sydney and lived in the city until her family moved to Europe when she was 13. Having reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open 12 months ago, she will head to Melbourne full of confidence.
The 25-year-old Briton was almost lost for words at the presentation ceremony. “I’m actually really happy,” she insisted. “This is a very special moment for me.”
Eyebrows had been raised at the end of last year when Konta parted company with her coach, Esteban Carril, after the most successful season of her life. However, she has started the new campaign in stunning fashion after replacing Carril with Wim Fissette, who used to work with Kim Clijsters, and adding Andrew Fitzpatrick to her coaching entourage.
Konta reached the semi-finals of her first tournament of the year in Shenzhen last week and has followed that up by winning five matches in Sydney without dropping a set.
Two years ago Konta beat Simona Halep in a third-round match in Wuhan when the Romanian was world No 2, but this victory over the world No 3 was arguably even more impressive given that it was in a final.
Radwanska had won both their previous meetings and is much more experienced, despite being only two years older. The 27-year-old Pole went into the final having won 20 titles compared with Konta’s one and more than $26m (about £21.3m) in prize money compared with the Briton’s $3.25m (£2.66m).
The 2012 Wimbledon runner-up is one of the game’s most inventive players and can out-think most opponents, but had no answer to Konta’s controlled aggression. The Briton attacked at every opportunity and was especially impressive with her drive volleys as she repeatedly came forward.
Konta made her first break in the third game. Having hit a big forehand return, she charged into the net to hit a forehand drive volley winner. It was the only break of serve in the first set, in which Konta had to save just one break point.
Radwanska was being pushed so far back that she was given few options. The Pole was broken again at the start of the second set as Konta converted her third break point of the opening game with a thumping backhand. She was soon 4-0 up and went on to serve out for the match after an hour and 22 minutes.
On her first match point Konta put an attempted drop shot into the net, but she made no mistake on the second, which she converted with an ace.
Radwanska thought she could not have played any better, saying that Konta had played “unbelievable” tennis. Konta, meanwhile, was pleased with her progress through the week.
“Each match that I was playing I was thinking a little more clearly and was getting that much more match-tight,” she said. “I was very happy with the match I played today. I felt I definitely maintained a high level throughout and I made it very difficult for her to do much.
“But going into any match against Aga - I played her twice before - I knew it had to be nothing short of what it was today if I was to have a chance of coming through.”
Asked what effect this week might have on her chances at the Australian Open, Konta said she was pleased with the number of matches she had got under her belt but added: “It’s not a reflection of how next week will go, how the rest of the year will go. It's back to everyday hard work, because that's what dictates how I do.”
Evans, who is heading towards a place in the world’s top 50, has also enjoyed an exceptional week and followed up his quarter-final victory over Dominic Thiem – his first over a top 10 opponent – with an emphatic victory over Kuznetsov.
The 25-year-old Russian, who as the world No 48 is currently ranked 19 places higher than Evans, had won their only previous meeting, at Wimbledon three years ago, but was on the back foot for most of the match.
Playing in his first semi-final at this level, Kuznetsov struggled to cope with the range of Evans’ game as the 26-year-old Briton mixed aggressive ground strokes with forays to the net and cunning slices.
Not even brief breaks because of rain early in the first set and late in the third could break Evans’ rhythm. Having gone 5-1 up in the first set he hit a forehand long on his first set point in the following game, but Kuznetsov put an attempted drop shot wide on the second.
The Russian raised his level in the second set and made an early break of serve, only for Evans to break back. However, Kuznetsov broke again to lead 5-3 and then served out for the set.
Although the momentum appeared to be with the Russian, it was Evans who made the vital breakthrough in the decider. Having broken serve in the fourth game, he served out for victory, which he secured with a bold forehand down the line.
“I’m excited,” Evans said afterwards. “I’m really happy with how I played, to come back in the third set again and get the job done."
Before Evans faces Muller on Saturday, Murray and Soares will take on the Dutch pair, Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop, in the doubles final. Murray and Soares beat the Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 6-3, 7-6 in the semi-finals.
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