Johanna Konta roars back to knock Sloane Stephens out of Wimbledon

• British No 1 beats No 9 seed 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
• Konta will face No 6 seed Petra Kvitova in fourth round

There was a time, not long ago, when it seemed as if Johanna Konta did not have a plan B. If plan A worked, she was a threat; if not, then things were not going to go well. Under the guidance of the quiet Swiss Dimitri Zavialoff things have changed for the Briton and never was that more evident than at Wimbledon on Saturday when she turned the match round to beat the American Sloane Stephens for a place in the last 16.

Bullied and battered by the forehand of the 2017 US Open champion in the first set, Konta was up against it at the start of the second. But with the help of some resilience and, crucially, some smart thinking she recovered to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 and take her place in week two at Wimbledon for only the second time.

“I just kept plugging away, more than anything,” Konta said, proud of her efforts. “She was playing incredibly well and I was fully prepared to not be coming back in that second set. I was really pleased I could keep battling, I was pleased I could mix things up and I did a good job in getting her out of that zone.

“It was incredibly tough. She’s an incredibly good player and at her best she’s very, very tough to play. I really had to work hard to find a way into that match and get my level up to hers. I’m really pleased I could do that and keep the pressure on. I’m really pleased with the tennis I’m playing.”

Konta had won all three of their previous meetings, all played this year, including one at the French Open last month. But she was outplayed in the first set as Stephens took the attack to her, slapping forehand winners cross-court and leaving Konta flat-footed.

At the start of the second set the American pressed for another break but this time Konta held firm. She saved one break point at 1-1 and three more at 2-2, her hold of serve absolutely crucial to the outcome of the match. Konta was mixing up her game, coming to the net more and generally just cutting out the mistakes, a combination that must have made Stephens feel as if she could not hit through her defences.

The pair stayed on serve to 5-4 but Konta put a mis-hit smash away to earn a set point on the Stephens serve and then played a brilliant point, ended with a wrong-footing forehand, to take the game and level the match. The third set was something of a procession as the air was taken out of the Stephens sails and Konta served out nervelessly to advance to the last 16.

There she will play Petra Kvitova, the two-times champion who is into the second week for the first time since the second of her titles, in 2014. Playing with a sore arm, an injury that forced her to miss the French Open, Kvitova has been spending as little time in practice as possible, wary that the problem might flare up at any time.

The Czech is not one of those players who needs much practice, though, and she made light work of Magda Linette, beating the Pole 6-3, 6-2, keeping her time on the court down in the process.

Kvitova has won three of her four meetings with Konta, including their last one, on grass in Birmingham last year. But though the head‑to‑head record should boost Kvitova, the Czech knows her arm might give way at any stage. “I’m pretty confident I have a day off tomorrow, that’s what I really know,” she said. “Of course, as I mentioned already many times before, the pain can come in the forearm and I have to retire. I’m really taking it very positive that I finished the match with the win. That’s really important for me. I’m not really looking too ahead.”

The performances of Coco Gauff have captivated everyone at Wimbledon in the first week and perhaps they have galvanised Serena Williams, too. The American, seeking her eighth Wimbledon title and record-equalling 24th grand slam title, stepped up a gear or two as she beat Julia Görges of Germany 6-3, 6-4 to set up a meeting with Spain’s Carla Suárez Navarro.

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The 37-year-old Williams has played only five events in 2019 through injury but, having had treatment to her right knee after the French Open, she is improving with every round. “I’m getting a really late start but all that matters is that I’m here,” Williams said.

One more win will most likely see Williams taking on the top seed, Ashleigh Barty, but she is intent only on getting matches under her belt. “I just need to keep it up,” she said. “Each match for me really counts.”


Simon Cambers at Wimbledon

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