Johanna Konta faces meeting of minds with Viktoria Kuzmova in French Open

• Briton’s opponent reads Shakespeare in her spare time
• Naomi Osaka survives scare against Victoria Azarenka

If Johanna Konta is to continue her new-found love affair with the clay of Roland Garros, she will have to outsmart an opponent who is studying for a degree in international relations and diplomacy, and reads Hamlet in her spare time – in Slovakian.

“I’ve always loved law and philosophy,” says Viktoria Kuzmova, who moved into the third round of the French Open when the fourth seed, Kiki Bertens, quit through illness while trailing 1-3 in their match on Wednesday. Konta, who had to battle past the stubborn American Lauren Davis in three sets, has vague memories of hitting last year with Kuzmova, who is ranked 46th in the world, but will get to know her a lot better on Friday.

As for Shakespeare, the 21-year-old Slovak revealed: “I’m reading Hamlet for the fifth time. We have a Shakespeare ‘space’ back in Bratislava but I’m never home when it’s happening. It’s on during Wimbledon, actually.

“Shakespeare is my favourite [poet] but I also love some not-so-famous authors. For example, I love [the Canadian] Rupi Kaur, who wrote The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey [a New York Times bestseller].

“They are also translated into Slovakian but I prefer them in English. It’s fairly ‘easy’ poetry so I can understand it in English. But I would never understand Shakespeare in English. I read Shakespeare in Slovakian.”

Kuzmova is typical of many European players with eclectic interests and inquiring minds. At Bratislava University she reads in Czech, although, “the professors are Slovakian”.

Konta, who speaks fluent Hungarian, is sometimes accused of over-thinking but she will need to be single‑minded on Court Simonne-Mathieu on day six. Can she beat the brain-box of Bratislava? That is the question.

Meanwhile Naomi Osaka’s struggle to hang on to her innocence while giving substance to her ambition continues. The world No 1, reaching for her third consecutive major at the start of her remarkable career, flirted with defeat for much of the three hours she shared with Victoria Azarenka in the third round.

Azarenka kept her honest in an anxious finish, breaking when Osaka served for the match, holding for 3-5 and saving two match points in the ninth game before putting a final forehand wide. After sharing Court Suzanne Lenglen with the garlanded Belarussian for nearly three hours, Osaka said courtside: “I knew that she was playing really well coming into this tournament. I felt it was an unfortunate second round [to have to play] and I’m glad I won.”

Asked if she was as calm as she sometimes appears, she smiled and demurred after coming from behind for the second time to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. “I choked on this side and almost over there,” she said, pointing to both sides of the net. “I’m very emotional, I think.”

Osaka, who next plays the Czech Katerina Siniakova, said later: “I felt like a challenger. I’m still kind of new at this.” That, from the reigning US and Australian Open champion, would raise a chuckle in the locker room. She is the most dangerous player in a quarter of the draw that contains the four‑times champion Serena Williams, who needed only 67 minutes to beat the Japanese qualifier, Kurumi Nara. The American has another routine engagement in the third round, against her compatriot Sofia Kenin, who went through when the injured Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu withdrew.

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Williams, who has been struggling with a knee injury, said on Thursday evening: “I’m still here, so it’s doing OK. I have had a tough year since I twisted my ankle in Australia.” She said of her opponent: “She had a really great run in Australia and I have been watching her. She has a lot to bring to the table, a lot of excitement. She’s so young and she’s such a good player.”

The eighth seed, Ashleigh Barty, who is in that quarter of the draw, impressed in defeating the American Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-1. If she beats Andrea Petkovic she will more than likely play Williams for a place in the quarter-finals.

Contributor

Kevin Mitchell at Roland Garros

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