Konta returns Britain to women’s grand slam semis

Published 01/27/2016, 1:35 AM EST
Britain’s Johanna Konta celebrates winning the first set during her quarter-final match against China’s Zhang Shuai at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter


By Ian Ransom

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Johanna Konta ground down Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai 6-4 6-1 at the Australian Open on Wednesday to become the first British woman to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam in over 30 years.

China’s Zhang Shuai (R) puts her hand on Britain’s Johanna Konta’s shoulder after Konta won their quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The 47th-ranked Konta will seek to continue her fairytale run on Thursday when she meets German seventh seed Angelique Kerber for a place in the title-decider.

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Konta’s rise has been little short of extraordinary, with her last trip to Melbourne Park cut short with a humbling exit at qualifying when ranked 147th in the world.

Twelve months on, the Sydney-born 24-year-old has emulated Eugenie Bouchard’s breathtaking run at the 2014 tournament by reaching the last four on her main draw debut at Melbourne Park.

“I’m just so happy that I’m enjoying what I’m doing. That is me living my dream,” a beaming Konta told reporters.

“When I was a little girl I dreamt of winning grand slams and being number one in the world. That dream stays the same I think as long as you’re doing the career that you’re on.”

The last British woman to make a grand slam semi-final was Jo Durie at the 1983 U.S. Open, while the last finalist was the 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade.

Konta will bid to become the first British woman to reach the Australian Open final since Wade’s run to the 1972 title.

Although Konta has reached lofty heights for British tennis, the quarter-final against Zhang failed to soar quite so high.

Both players battled nerves and the Chinese qualifier came into the match fatigued after playing seven straight matches.

Konta steadied first and rushed to a 5-2 lead before an attack of nerves nearly brought her undone.

The Eastbourne resident crumbled with two double-faults when serving for the set and allowed Zhang to claw back to 5-4.

As the first woman qualifier to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park in nearly three decades, Zhang was never going to concede lightly.

She saved five set points in an epic game before Konta ended the argument with a pair of booming first serves.

The pair traded service breaks early in the second set before Konta roared to a 5-1 lead.

Britain’s Johanna Konta serves during her quarter-final match against China’s Zhang Shuai at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Although struggling to muster the energy, Zhang battled to the end, saving two match points.

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But she was powerless to save the third when Konta hammered a shot into an obliging net-cord that gave the Chinese no chance.

“Yeah, it was a bit anti-climactic, wasn’t it?” Konta laughed. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change it.”

With her semi-finals appearance set to raise British hopes of a first female grand slam champion in nearly 40 years, Konta said she was not feeling any pressure.

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“No, but the U.K. is a number of thousands of miles away and a completely different time zone, which in this case it might be quite nice.”

(Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty)

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Dhruv George

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Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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