This has been a remarkable US Open for the British contingent, with three players reaching the last 16 for the first time since 1969, but the first of them to play in the fourth round here suffered a disappointing defeat. Johanna Konta, the world No 14, is ranked 34 places higher than Anastasija Sevastova, but it was the 26-year-old Latvian who booked her place in the quarter-finals, winning 6-4, 7-5.
Konta’s defeat left Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund as the last two Britons left in singles competition in the year’s concluding Grand Slam event. Murray meets Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round on Monday, while Edmund faces Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 and defending champion, in the final match in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday evening.
While Konta could be satisfied that she successfully defended the ranking points she made here 12 months ago on her Grand Slam breakthrough, the 25-year-old Briton might see this as a missed opportunity. Sevastova, who returned to competition last year after retiring in 2013 following a succession of injuries, had never gone beyond the second round in her three previous visits to Flushing Meadows, the last of which was in 2011.
Nevertheless, the world No 48 has enjoyed a fine year and showed what a threat she could be when she knocked out Garbine Muguruza, the world No 3 and French Open champion, in the second round. She will go into her quarter-final against Caroline Wozniacki having not dropped a set in her first four matches. Wozniacki, who has had a difficult year punctuated by injuries, continued her revival by beating Madison Keys 6-3, 6-4.
Konta is usually one of the most consistent ball strikers in the women’s game, but on this occasion she made too many mistakes and was often outrallied by the athletic Sevastova. Konta, who won her second-round match against Tsvetana Pironkova despite collapsing in mid-match, is also a fine athlete, but there were times when she was made to look sluggish. With Sevastova hitting some scorching returns, Konta was broken seven times. Sevastova also hit more winners (30 to 26) and made fewer unforced errors (26 to 34).
Although Konta felt she had maximised the energy she had, she hinted that she did not have too much left in the tank. The Briton has played 20 tournaments already this year and may have still been recovering from her collapse four days earlier.
“I think I needed to maybe be a little more offensive in certain parts and also be able to just move a bit better,” Konta said. “I felt I did the best I could today. I think my opponent played an overall more solid match than I did. I didn’t play the tennis level that I maybe would have liked to have played, but I competed the best I could. I left it all out there.”
On another day of glorious sunshine the two women opened proceedings in Arthur Ashe Stadium at 11am. As is often the case, there were thousands of spare seats at the start of play, creating a curiously subdued atmosphere in the vast arena.
Konta never fully recovered from a poor start. By the time she served at 0-3 and 0-40 she had won only five points. Although the Briton fought back to level at 3-3, Sevastova quickly took command again. Konta saved one set point as she broke back in the ninth game, but at 4-5 dropped serve again when Sevastova hit a crunching return to the baseline.
Sevastova quickly went 4-1 up in the second set. Konta again battled back and reduced the arrears to 4-3, only to drop serve once more in the next game. Sevastova had her first match point when she served at 5-3, but Konta saved it with a courageous backhand cross-court winner and then broke serve with a stunning half-volley lob.
Konta saved another match point in the following game with a service winner, but at 5-6 she was broken for the last time. Sevastova set up her third match point with a splendid forehand cross-court pass winner and converted it when Konta shanked a forehand.
Sevastova said afterwards that she was playing better in what she called her “second career”. The Latvian added: “I’m handling pressure sometimes better than before. It’s tough playing these match points. It’s always tough to finish the match, but I think I’m handling it better now. I think this was a quality match.
Konta said she was looking forward to some rest at home, but she will soon be on the road again. She next plans to play in Wuhan, Beijing and Hong Kong. It has been a long but successful summer for the world No 14, who still has plenty to play for.
A place in the end-of-season WTA Finals is still within Konta’s reach. The field in Singapore comprises the eight players who have won the most ranking points during the year and the Briton is currently 11th on the list.
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