ROME, Italy - No.5 seed Jelena Ostapenko's generosity was in short supply against unseeded birthday celebrant Johanna Konta in their third-round encounter at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, stemming her flow of gifts to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 13 minutes.
It was the Latvian's first win over Konta following two losses last year, 6-2, 6-3 in Fed Cup zonal play and 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in a high-quality Eastbourne third-rounder. However, they had never met on clay before, and after a slow start the Roland Garros champion was able to assert her superiority on the surface with a positive ratio of 36 winners to 28 unforced errors.
For a set, though, a career-best clay run for the Briton appeared on the cards. Konta, aiming to notch up three consecutive main draw wins on the terre battue for the first time in her career, started off in confident form, standing well inside the baseline to take balls early, attack Ostapenko's second serve and rush the net at every opportunity.
The brand new 27-year-old's ultra-aggressive approach paid off as she broke her opponent twice while protecting her own serve from any break points, smothering Ostapenko's game relentlessly. The reigning Roland Garros champion was unable to find her range, committing 10 unforced errors in the first set, and especially struggling on serve, landing a scant 33% of her first deliveries. Konta's strategy initially allowed Ostapenko little opportunity to play herself into the match.
When a chance did present itself, the 20-year-old seemed loath to take it. Konta, lapsing into error in the second game of the second set, offered up two break points - but Ostapenko was unable to keep the ball in play on either, and cracked her racket in frustration after coming out on the losing end of a five-deuce tussle.
Missing this opportunity, though, seemed to spur the Miami finalist on. Two games later, three of the spectacular groundstroke winners that have bcome her trademark propelled her to a first break of the Konta serve - and, the floodgates opened, began to flow from all corners as she notched up a second-set total of 14.
But it wasn't just high-risk shotmaking turning the match around for Ostapenko: raising her first serve percentage to 52% allowed her to ride her break lead to the end of the set without facing a break point.
The Wimbledon quarterfinalist has a knack, once her game is clicking, to pile even more pressure on her opponent by ratcheting up her aggression levels even more - and that's precisely what she did at the start of the deciding set. Opting to bypass rallies entirely, Ostapenko went for broke on return - which paid off three times as the pace and placement left the World No.22 flailing.
As the match reached its climax, the Ostapenko backhand was increasingly the most valuable shot on court as the youngest player in the Top 10 found a number of brilliant angles with it to maintain her lead.
Though Konta was increasingly being outplayed off the ground, she managed to draw on her formidable serve - as well as throwing in a volley here and a dropshot there - to keep the scoreline close. But while Ostapenko was easing through her service games, Konta was forced to save four break points and fight through three deuce games just to cling on to the match.
Nonetheless, it was now Ostapenko who was proving the cooler customer. A rare break point against her in the eighth game was saved with a service winner; and though, serving for the match, a seventh double fault momentarily put the game in doubt at 30-30, a typically high-risk, high-power forehand winner on the line saved the day.
Ahead of her maiden Grand Slam title defence, Ostapenko is rounding into form with her fourth quarterfinal showing of the year - in which she will face either Daria Gavrilova or Maria Sharapova.