In one of the busiest sections of the women’s draw, Eastbourne semi-finalists, Johanna Konta and Monica Puig will meet in a tough first round match to be played at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
Konta’s rise up the ranking has been nothing short of extraordinary. This time last year, Konta was ranked at #126 in the world. One year on and she’s the number 16 seed at Wimbledon. Her form picked up at about this time last year as she went on a magnificent run after Wimbledon, winning back-to-back ITF titles and reaching the 4th round of the US Open as a qualifier. A quarter-final showing in Wuhan saw her defeat the then world number 2, Simona Halep.
There was always a concern that Konta’s form may have been a flash in the pan considering how she had been outside of the world’s top 100 for most of her career. She lost her first two matches of 2016, but came back with a bang in Melbourne, knocking out Venus Williams in the first round and reaching her first Slam semi-final. This year she has been playing well at the big tournaments, reaching the 4th round of Indian Wells and the quarter-finals of Miami. Things went quiet on the clay, but Konta’s been steadily improving during the grass court season; she reached the semi-finals of Eastbourne, scoring a third set bagel over Petra Kvitova in the third round… not too shabby!
Puig’s rise up the rankings hasn’t been as sharp and surprising as Konta but it’s still been pretty rapid this year! The 22-year-old was ranked as low as #106 back in October last year when she played in Beijing. I still remember watching a match of Puig’s in Miami last year against Irina Falconi where she was being coached by Ricardo Sanchez. She didn’t seem to be enjoying her tennis and looked very unsure and muddled in her tactics. 2016 has been a wonderful year so far; this all started with a run to the final in Sydney as a qualifier. She hasn’t had any stand-out runs since (apart from the SFs in Eastbourne) but she has been consistently winning matches at WTA level tournaments.
Furthermore, she won two epic Slam matches, defeating Kristyna Pliskova in the second round of the Australian Open, 4-6 7-6(6) 9-7 and Julia Goerges in the second round of the French Open, 7-5 6-7(4) 7-5. These results are an indication of her improving mental toughness. Puig has always come across as quite a dramatic figure, for example in her celebrations, but I was super impressed with how she reacted in press in Eastbourne. She was content with her win over Wozniacki, but not over the top in anyway as if it wasn’t a surprise to her. She talked about maturity and said that she has started to understand how she functions better.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match, Konta defeated Puig, 4-6 6-4 7-6(5) in the second round of Nottingham last year. Both players have progressed significantly since that last encounter.
Interesting stat: Puig has compiled an impressive 38-16 W-L record in 2016, compared to Konta’s 20-14 W-L record. Konta is higher on the Race to Singapore due to the calibre of her wins at #15 with Puig not far behind at #20.
Final thoughts: I’m a little sad that Konta and Puig have to meet so early because I think they both could make the second week with the right draw. Konta will have a lot of pressure on her shoulders and she showed some emotion in her semi-final match in Eastbourne. She’s never won a main draw match at Wimbledon before so will want to get that monkey off her back. Puig’s played a lot of gruelling matches of late, but it should give her the belief that she can succeed on the grass. Puig spoke in press in Eastbourne about needing plenty of time to adjust to grass, (which she has had, for sure!) but it is a surface that favours her aggressive gameplan.
As to a winner, this is one of those matches where I am teetering on the fence. My initial instinct though was with Konta, who I think has demonstrated over this past year on a consistent basis that she can handle the pressure.