Serena Williams will play Johanna Konta for the first time when the pair take to the court on Wednesday for the quarter-finals of the Australian Open… BRING. IT. ON.
Williams has yet to drop a set through her first four rounds. She faced her most challenging match of the tournament in the fourth round against Barbora Strycova, winning a tight two setter, 7-5 6-4 in one hour and 45 minutes. Williams fought back from a break down three times in the first set, sealing the opener on her eighth set point.
The American was more comfortable in the second set aside from a shaky ending. It wasn’t the cleanest of performances from Williams who was serving at just 45% of first serves in and struggled on the forehand side. Still, a win is a win and it was enough for the straight sets win against a tricky opponent.
Like Williams, Konta has yet to drop a set in Melbourne. In fact, the Brit hasn’t dropped a set in a nine match winning streak after she won the Apia International in Sydney. Konta won her fourth straight match against Ekaterina Makarova with her most comfortable scoreline of all their ‘Bourne clashes, 6-1 6-4.
The second set of that match wasn’t as straightforward as the scoreline would imply as Konta rallied from a 1-4 deficit and dug out of a *0-40 hole when serving for the match. The Brit prevailed though with yet more solid stats, hitting 21 winners to 13 unforced errors.
Interesting stat: Through their first four matches, Konta’s stats have been the more impressive; while points on serve won have been pretty close with Konta winning 77% of first serve points (compared to Serena’s 76%) and 53% of second serve points (compared to Serena’s 48%), Konta has maintained a better relationship between her winners and unforced errors with a +25 differential compared to Williams’s tally of -15.
Final thoughts: It’s been a while since I have felt this excited about a match-up on the WTA tour and if it’s during the day schedule, I will get up for it no matter what time!
Konta has the momentum in her favour following a series of superb displays in Sydney and Melbourne. She has been extremely consistent, serving effectively and maintaining an aggressive streak. Considering this has only been Williams’s second tournament since last year’s US Open, it is a mark of her champion qualities to have navigated the draw she has been dealt without dropping a set. In fact, both players have had brutal draws to get here. Konta’s progression has been all the more impressive because she has had to play four completely different game styles – Flipkens, Osaka, Wozniacki and Makarova are an eclectic quartet!
The stats back up that Konta has played the better tennis to reach this stage of the tournament but for Williams, with respect to her last two opponents, hasn’t required her A-game. The American’s ability to raise her level for the calibre of opponent is second-to-none and an in-form Konta rings alarm bells that should awaken Williams.
For Konta, there’s a slight concern that she could get slightly overrawed with the situation as she has never played Williams before. On the other hand, I wouldn’t rule out some nerves from Williams who has failed to serve out three of her four matches at the first time of asking. Williams will have to produce a remarkably improved performance from the match against Strycova if she’s going to come out as the winner.
Pre-draw I would have taken Serena in this match-up. As the week has unfolded and this encounter has loomed on the horizon, there has been this growing sense of realisation which finally hit me this morning… I think that Jo might win this.