23rd January, 2017
Britain’s Johanna Konta produced another terrific performance on Monday to beat Russian Ekaterina Makarova and set up an Australian Open quarter-final number two seed Serena Williams.
The ninth-seeded Konta saw off 30th seed Makarova 6-1 6-4 to reach the last eight without dropping a set.
The 25-year-old Briton had reached her first Grand Slam semi-final in Melbourne last year.
Second seed Williams overcame stern resistance from Czech 16th seed Barbora Strycova to win 7-5 6-4.
Asked about facing the 22-time Grand Slam champion for the first time, Konta said: “Believe it or not that’s an incredible experience for me.
“She’s one of the few players still playing who I watched growing up. As a young girl wanting to be a professional tennis player, it’s an incredible honour and I can’t wait to play on court with her.
“Once out on court, against anyone, anyone is out there to compete. Hopefully I’ll come off as the winner.
“In terms of enjoying the opportunity and the competition, I will cherish every minute out there.”
Konta had arrived in Melbourne having won her second WTA title in Sydney, the city in which she was born.
Monday’s victory over Makarova made it nine matches and 18 sets in a row.
She had needed three hours to beat Makarova at the same stage of the 2016 tournament, but 12 months on the Briton has established herself as a true Grand Slam contender.
Dominant in every aspect of the game, she raced through the first set in just 24 minutes.
She won 78 per cent of points on her serve and, more impressively, 62 per cent on the Makarova serve.
Her constant aggression left the flat-hitting Makarova struggling to get a racquet on the ball much of the time.
Konta’s level dropped in the second set as her first serve deserted her briefly, allowing Makarova to build a 4-1 lead.
But the Briton came storming back with five games in a row —- closing out the match superbly from 0-40 with two aces along the way.
“I think I came out definitely playing at a higher level than she did, but she really put herself back into that match and made it difficult for me,” said Konta.
“The way she pulled away in the second set, I don’t feel like I did much wrong, she started playing some incredible tennis.”
Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, picked Konta earlier in the week as a leading threat to his player, and the theory will now be tested when they meet for the first time.
Williams was not at her best in the opening match of day eight on Rod Laver Arena but did enough to see off a feisty opponent in Strycova.
The 35-year-old American six-time champion fell a break of serve down three times in the first set, but fought back to eventually win 7-5 6-4.
“She’s a really smart player — she can do pretty much everything,’’ Williams said of Strycova.
“It was a really good match for me and I’m glad I came through it.’’
Williams was under pressure on serve more than usual with a first-serve percentage of just 45 per cent.
“It’s good to know I have a plan B or option two,” she added. “I wasn’t serving my greatest but she was also putting a lot of returns in there.