BRISBANE, Australia - No.5 seed Johanna Konta needed three grueling sets to put away US Open finalist Madison Keys in her first match of 2018 at the Brisbane International, coming back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The highly anticipated matchup between two former Australian Open semifinalists lived up to its billing, with just one break of serve making the difference in each set of the high quality, two-hour encounter.
“This was my first match in quite a while, so I’m really happy to have had such a competitive match against such a great player,” Konta said in her on-court interview. “It was a really tough first round for both of us. Madison is an incredibly good player, so I feel very lucky that I got to play her so early on and really have a good match.”
In a tense match that went largely the way of the server, it was Konta who found herself under pressure early on. The Brit started off her service games sluggishly, letting Keys regularly climb ahead to 30-0 before reeling it back in. Konta gave Keys a look at break points galore in the opening set, but each time found a way to gut out a hold to keep them level.
Konta’s luck ran out in her very last service game, though, with Keys ahead 5-4 and closing in on the opening set. She once again fell behind 0-30, but this time couldn’t find her way back as Keys ripped a backhand return cross court to drag Konta out wide before closing out the set with a searing forehand winner.
The Brit turned the tables in the next set; whereas in set one she offered Keys nine break point chances, in the second she didn’t allow any, and broke to love early at 3-2 to grab her first lead of the match.
With the second set in the bag, Konta picked up right where she left off and opened the third with a break to love. Konta’s strong serving kept Keys out of the contest - the Brit’s first serve percentage stayed in the high 70s for much of the match - and she consolidated after a grueling service game to go up 2-0. Another break to end the set, and Konta claimed her first victory of 2018 after two hours and eight minutes.
“Madison in general has a big game, so I know coming out that I wasn’t going to have very many chances and that when they did arise I was really going to do my best to hustle and take them,” Konta explained. “She started off the match really well, and I don’t think I started off that badly, actually. I felt that I was able to gain momentum going into the third. There wasn’t much in there - it was only a couple breaks here and there.”
The victory is not only the first of the new season for Konta - and the first of her new partnership with coach Michael Joyce - but it also snaps a five-match losing streak dating back to Cincinnati, which lasted until the end of her 2017 season in Beijing.
Up next, Konta will take on the winner between two Australian wildcards, Destanee Aiava and Ajla Tomljanovic, in the second round.