BRISBANE, Australia -- Johanna Konta of Great Britain started her 2019 off with a bang by pulling off a 6-4, 6-3 upset over 3rd-seeded American Sloane Stephens in the opening round of the Brisbane International on New Year’s Day.
World No.37 Konta dispatched Stephens in one hour and 52 minutes, in the first meeting between the two most recent Miami Open champions. If former World No.4 Konta is eyeing a return to the Top 10, she could not have asked for a better start to the new season than a win over the current World No.6 and 2017 US Open champion.
"I knew going into the match that Sloane is going to be playing very well and that there will be pockets of time where I might have very little say in the match," Konta said, during her post-match press conference. "She's an incredibly gifted athlete and player and she can raise her level in part."
"So I was definitely going into the match just not really expecting anything or anticipating anything, and more just playing each point as it came and try to just really react well for the balls that were coming off of her racquet, and obviously being clear on how I wanted to play my points as well."
— WTA (@WTA) January 1, 2019
Konta claimed the 15th Top 10 win of her career, and first since beating then-No.2 Simona Halep at Wimbledon in 2017. The British star broke her opponent's serve four times out of ten chances to garner the win in two relatively evenly-matched sets. Stephens will rue missing four break points early in the tilt, as well as three costly double faults.
A 10-minute service game kicked off the clash, as Konta had to fend off two break points to retain her opening delivery. Stephens held two more break points in Konta’s next service game as well, but the Brit’s fiery forehand bailed her out of trouble and she held for 2-1.
"I think the first three games took like half an hour, so it was very, very close at the beginning, a lot of close games," Konta stated. "We pretty much maintained like that throughout the whole match."
After being unable to convert any of her first four break points, Stephens faltered, dropping serve with a wide forehand to hand Konta a 3-1 lead. Konta maintained that advantage up to 5-2, at which juncture she held a set point on the Stephens serve.
The American withstood that danger and held for 5-3, then crushed a service return to force an error, claiming a love break to get back on serve at 5-4. Her comeback ended up for naught, though, as Konta broke serve again in another tight game to seal up the one-set lead following an errant Stephens backhand.
— WTA (@WTA) January 1, 2019
Stephens struck first in the second set, breaking Konta to lead 2-1 after a 12-minute delay while an ill spectator was tended to. But Stephens quickly gave her advantage back, double faulting on break point in the very next game.
The American let a 40-15 lead slip on her serve at 4-3, losing one game point with another double fault, and Konta took her chance, drawing Stephens into long rallies which routinely ended with miscues by the No.3 seed. The Brit eventually claimed the break to lead 5-3, and blasted her way to triple match point in the next game with a stirring forehand. One final long backhand by Stephens provided Konta with the upset win.
"[Stephens is] Top 10 and she's had an incredible couple of seasons," said Konta. "I definitely take a lot of good things from that, and a bit of a pat on the back for me that I competed well against one of the best players in the world and I came through. We have a lot of battles against some of the best players in the world where you just miss out, and it's always nice when you are able to come through."
Sydney-born Konta moves into the second round, where she will take on home-nation hope Ajla Tomljanovic. Australia’s Tomljanovic overcame Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 1-6, 6-3, 6-0, as the Konta/Stephens encounter was taking place concurrently.