BEIJING, China -- Monica Niculescu of Romania obtained a shocking first-round win at the China Open on Sunday, steamrolling No.6 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-2.
Konta had no answers against the discomfiting game of Niculescu, who sliced and diced her way to her first Top 10 win of the year, and fourth of her career, in one hour and five minutes. Niculescu demonstrated the form which took her to the China Open semifinals as a qualifier back in 2011.
"It’s my Top 10 win for this year, and the way I played, I’m so happy," Niculescu told the media after the match. "I was just like a wall there, and, like, confident. My slices were very low, my backhand was deep and high. This I wanted to play, and it was perfect today."
It was a composed performance by the Romanian, who used her deft touch and arsenal of spins to make her way through the match, finishing the tilt with eight winners and only six unforced errors, and converting four out of her seven break points without being broken once.
At the other end of the spectrum, Konta now finds herself mired in a five-match losing streak, which could have disastrous consequences as she hopes to claim one of the final two singles spots at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. The Brit had a whopping 38 unforced errors in the match.
The tenor of the match was established right away, as a handful of errors by Konta gave Niculescu double break point in the British player's very first service game, and the Romanian took the early 2-0 lead thanks to an exceptional passing shot.
Niculescu broke again for a 4-0 lead due to a solid service return, and had no trouble holding on from there to capture the opening set with ease. Already, Konta's unforced error count more than doubled her winners, and she was struggling on serve, claiming less than half of her own service points.
"I’m happy that I could play good at the beginning of the match, and I liked that my slices were low, and she couldn’t do so much with that," Niculescu elaborated.
Nothing changed in the second set, as the variety of spins off of Niculescu's shots totally discombobulated Konta. Another cluster of errors from the World No.7 led to Niculescu breaking at love for 2-1, and, like the first set, the early deficit proved impossible for Konta to overcome.
Niculescu took a double-break lead for 4-1, and then held at love for 5-1, putting her one game away from her first Top 10 victory since last season.
A service winner allowed Konta to hold for 5-2, but in the final game, Konta approached the net on every single point, and on four out of those five occasions, she was unsuccessful. Two points which ended with strong passing shots gave Niculescu double match point, and she converted the first one with a backhand winner after Konta meekly returned a lob.
Niculescu advances to the second round of the China Open for the third time in her career, where she will face off against either Shelby Rogers of the United States or Chinese No.1 Peng Shuai.
"I like it here, I always play good here," Niculescu stated, and used her win over two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na during her aforementioned run to the semifinals in 2011 as an example of her good feelings when she makes it to Beijing.
"I qualified, and there were four spots in the draw, and of course one was for Na Li. I was thinking, 'I hope I play with the rest, and not with Na Li.' And of course the draw was out, and I played Na Li," she laughed.
"And it was an amazing court...it was packed, everybody was there. I remember I came on the court and I felt fantastic. 'Oh, I feel great!' No tension, no pressure, and I won, 6-4, 6-0."
"It was amazing. I made semifinals after, and it was a very good result for me. That’s why I have great memories."