September 3, 2019
Jo Konta’s courageous US Open challenge ended not long after that of defending champion Naomi Osaka. And there never seems to be a dull moment with either player!
Fascinating, exciting and frustrating in equal measure. That’s Konta at the business end of the biggest tournaments so far.
Jo has all the shots in her armoury. She has a great serve and the subtlety to match her baseline power when she is at her best.
But under pressure, Konta makes so many unforced errors that she tends to nullify her own spectacular winners.
Clear thinking and cool execution when the heat is on. That’s what Jo still needs to work on. The answers are inside her own head. She has the ability to win a Slam if she can find those answers.
Jo will point out that she had another fabulous Grand Slam adventure. She went further than any British woman since 1983. And British tennis fans should be rightly proud of her achievement.
And let’s take nothing away from Elina Svitolilna, who won 6-4, 6-4. She played solid, consistent tennis and was more composed when it mattered. She only made 13 unforced errors to Konta’s 35. That pretty much told the story.
Yes, Elina squandered two match points during Konta’s final service game. But you always felt Svitolina would get the job done in the end.
‘I tried to stay calm and think I am still up,’ the Ukrainian explained later. Of her boyfriend, Gael Monfils, she said: ‘We are definitely trying to push each other.’
Konta was broken in the fifth game of the first set but broke straight back with an awesome display of power and precision.
Unfortunately for the Brit, she gambled and lost on a drop shot at 15-30 in her very next service game. Svitolina seized the first break point and made no mistake.
Konta had the opportunity to level by breaking once more. But she wasted her opportunities by getting her angles wrong.
Once again she appeared to be over-anxious at key moments.
And so it proved when she tried to stay in the first set. Konta conjured a stunning drop volley to save the first set point but gifted a second by over-hitting a forehand.
Her misjudgement of a backhand slice sent it sailing over the baseline for another unforced error, this time the one that cost her the set.
For the sake of the match, we all hoped that Jo’s high-risk strategy and famed ability to come back from a set down would pay dividends.
Once she gets on a roll in a match, Konta can be inspirational and unstoppable. This time it wasn’t to be, however.
A wild Konta forehand went wide when she faced a break point in the second set. Svitolina should now have been in control, 3-2 up and serving. Yet Konta bravely levelled thanks to a superb drop-shot.
She couldn’t maintain momentum on serve, though. Murky decision-making allowed her opponent to unpick her once more and close in for the kill.
There is still time for Jo to go all the way in a Slam. She just needs to find that new psychological level to go with the impressive versatility of game.
Meanwhile Naomi Osaka’s defence of her US Open title had ended when she was beaten by Belinda Bencic. The Swiss star deserved her 7-5, 6-4 victory and yet the focus remained on Osaka in the aftermath of this one.
Osaka took defeat well and was clearly proud of the way she had handled herself at the tournament – including that heartwarming scene with the tearful Coco Gauff in the previous round.
Naomi reflected: ‘For me, right now I have this feeling of sadness, but I also feel like I have learned so much during this tournament.
‘I feel like the steps I’ve taken as a person have been much greater than I would imagine at this point, so I hope I can keep growing. I know if I keep working hard, then I’ll have better results.’
Rafael Nadal found an extra gear against Marin Cilic when his dominance was challenged. The big Croat had hit back to take the second set. But Nadal refused to let his opponent’s confidence grow and the rest of the contest was one-sided.