MELBOURNE, Australia - Lucky loser Bernarda Pera pulled off the biggest win of her career at the Australian Open, thwarting the hopes of No.9 seed Johanna Konta, 6-4, 7-5 to reach the third round.
Playing in her first ever Grand Slam main draw, the Croatian-born American fell in the final round round of qualifying to Viktorija Golubic but made it into the tournament after Margarita Gasparyan withdrew due to a right shoulder injury. "Monday, I was ready to leave - then they told me I was in," she recalled. "I was checking the tickets to fly back - I'm glad I didn't buy one!"
Making the most of her second chance, the left-handed Pera eased past Anna Blinkova in the first round and thoroughly seized the moment against Konta, striking 26 winners and fighting off late-match nerves to serve out the victory on her fifth match point.
"My goal was just to stay aggressive, play my game, stay close to the baseline, make her run - she obviously doesn't like to defend," Pera told the press afterwards. "I didn't put much pressure on myself, I think that helped. I was able to stay calm."
Konta made her major breakthrough down under back in 2016, upsetting Venus Williams en route to her first Grand Slam semifinal, but injuries have taken their toll of late. The British No.1 narrowly missed out on a berth to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, ending her 2017 season with a foot injury and kicked off 2018 with a retirement from a Brisbane International thriller against Elina Svitolina, citing a hip issue.
"I think she played very inspired throughout the whole way, and I think I didn't do enough at the beginning when I had little windows to put my stamp on the match," Konta said after the match. "I felt I didn't quite get enough into the match to be able to get going.
"In the points I did okay, and I think I stayed quite strong. But I don't think I did enough with my service games, and I don't think I did enough with my returns, as well. I don't think I adapted well enough."
Lacking the match toughness that took her to a career-high ranking of No.4 and the Wimbledon semifinals last summer, the Brit went two for two on break point opportunities, but 29 unforced errors - the last of which coming on an overhead miss on match point - proved her undoing on Show Court No.2.
"It's a bit frustrating, but also I think I'm still taking good stuff from this. I don't feel, by any means, it's a massive catastrophe. I play every event to be there till the end, so I definitely don't want to be going home this early.
"In terms of building myself back up again and then playing the way I want to play, I think I keep moving forward."
As for Pera, this time last year she was ranked No.319 - and losing in the second round of a $15,000 ITF event in Stüttgart to the World No.642, Ekaterina Kazionova. Now, the 23-year-old is edging closer to a Top 100 debut and will take on No.20 seed Barbora Strycova for a spot in the second week.
Even so, her self-belief has never wavered. "I always knew I could do it," the Slam debutante told reporters afterwards.