RABAT, Morocco - The rebirth of Johanna Konta as a claycourter continued at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem as the No.7 seed powered into her first final in 10 months 6-2, 7-6(7) over No.4 seed Ajla Tomljanovic in one hour and 31 minutes, saving one set point in the second set tiebreak.
Prior to this week, the Briton had never won more than two consecutive WTA main draw clay matches; her quarterfinal upset of No.2 seed Hsieh Su-Wei was the first time she had won three straight matches on the terre battue since qualifying for Roland Garros in 2015. The last time Konta had notched up four victories in a row on clay was in making the Jackson ITF W25 final in 2015 - and, incredibly, you have to go back all the way to her maiden ITF title in Mostar in 2008 for her last four consecutive wins on red clay.
— WTA (@WTA) May 3, 2019
Today, though, fresh off the confidence boosts of both leading Great Britain back into World Group II of Fed Cup over Kazakhstan and then saving three match points in the first round here against Wang Yafan, Konta seemed completely at ease on the clay against last year's finalist. It would be fair to say that Konta playing well on clay looks rather similar to Konta's peak level everywhere else rather than a significant tactical adjustment, though. Executing perfectly controlled aggression based around strong serving, the 27-year-old pounded her forehand with gusto and ended points decisively at net as she leapt out to a 4-1 double break lead.
Though Konta's game necessarily involves some unforced errors, the World No.47's winners outweighed them by 12 to nine in the opener - and, keeping a cool head, she was able to prevent them from becoming anything more than a blip. Errors on the volley, forehand and backhand saw her conceding one of her break advantages - but Konta immediately stepped up to regain it before serving the set out to 15.
Tomljanovic, by contrast, started out of sorts and never got going in the first set. The Australian tallied 11 unforced errors to just five winners in the opening act, with her groundstrokes going awry on both defence and offence, and a tetchy on-court vist from coach Dieter Kindlmann failed to settle her.
But a more tightly contested second set saw the World No.43 finally get her teeth into the match thanks to much-improved serving, winning 72% of the points behind her first delivery compared to the first set's paltry 38%. Unfortunately for her, Konta responded with a similar step up: landing 71% of her first serves and winning 85% of those points, the two-time Grand Slam semifinalist was almost impregnable when she stepped up to the line, with particularly impressive holds coming when serving to stay in the set twice.
Each player would snuff out a single break point against them with an emphatic and unreturnable serve - so, appropriately enough, the set would eventually be decided by a tiebreak in which matters took a turn for the dramatic. Konta leapt into a 4-1 lead - but eased off as Tomljanovic battled hard to stay in rallies, and found herself pegged back to 5-5, at which point an untimely double fault, only her second of thue day, reared its head.
The pair's last encounter had been a two-hour, 51-minute marathon, the 11th longest match of the year so far and one that required Konta to win a match tiebreak in the first round of the Australian Open to come through 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-6[10-7]. But the former World No.4 was in no mood to let today's reprise get dragged into a decider: from set point down, she played her most brilliant tennis of the match, raking powerful strikes from line to line to keep the set alive and swinging freely on return to reach match point.
Konta would duly convert her second as a Tomljanovic backhand found the net to seal her debut in a claycourt final against either No.6 seed Maria Sakkari or No.8 seed Alison Van Uytvanck - the fourth player in 2019 to reach a final after saving match point following Julia Goerges in Hobart, Belinda Bencic in Dubai and Van Uytvanck in Budapest, all of whom would go on to lift the trophy.