PARIS, France - No.26 seed Johanna Konta ended a national drought at Roland Garros, becoming the first British woman in 36 years to reach the semifinals with a resounding 6-1, 6-4 victory over No.7 seed Sloane Stephens in one hour and 10 minutes.
The 28-year-old extended her unbeaten record against Stephens to 3-0 - all this year, having previously won 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of Sydney and 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1 three weeks ago in the second round of Rome. In a thoroughly dominant performance, Konta would face only one break point, winning 33 out of 38 first serve points and striking 25 winners on her way to matching compatriot Jo Durie's 1983 run here. The result also guarantees a new major finalist: Konta will face No.31 seed Petra Martic or Marketa Vondrousova in the semifinals, either of whom would be making their debut in the last four of a Grand Slam.
"It's definitely one of my best performances," smiled Konta afterwards. "I feel really pleased with how I dealt with the conditions out there and just how I gave myself space to play. I thought I played the game, which I was just really pleased with. Just happy."
Between 2013 and 2018, Konta's overall win-loss record on clay in WTA main draws was just 7-15 - but in 2019, it is now 15-3 and counting. For the past month, the Rabat and Rome finalist has insisted that she has "never doubted my ability to play on the surface" - but this year, her confidence has been boosted by some memorable comeback performances in Fed Cup play and a fruitful relationship with new coach Dimitri Zavialoff.
It is those Fed Cup experiences, rather than Konta's previous Grand Slam semifinal runs at the 2016 Australian Open and Wimbledon 2017, that she will now be drawing on. "For sure, there's got to be some benefit that I'll be feeling from being in this position before," she said. "But more than anything, I think, is also the different positions that I have been in so far this year. I mean, those were some tough situations during Fed Cup as well, a lot of matches I played where I was down."
It's clear that Konta trusts her game and ability more than ever. "Whenever I step out onto the court, I'm always going to have a chance," she declared. "I don't think any player on tour can go on court against me and feel like they've definitely got it. I definitely back myself and my ability that way. But then I also accept... that it's not all on my racquet. I also accept that my opponent has a say in things out there, as well."
Today, though Stephens had few says. The first game was a mini-epic that might have promised a battle royale, a tug of war on the Briton's serve that saw her save her only break point of the match and eventually hold after four deuces. But after Stephens responded with a hold of her own, Konta took control and never relinquished it.
With her serve and its follow-up putaways both clicking, Konta would rack up service winners and one-two punches as though collecting a portfolio of those shots. The three-time WTA titlist would make the basics of the sport look effortless over the course of the match with near-flawless execution of first-strike tennis - to which Stephens was unable to find a solution.
Untouchable on serve - almost literally so in the second set, in which the only point Konta conceded on her delivery was a double fault as she served for the match - the former World No.4 was able to go after Stephens' service games with more of a variety of tactics. Constructing baseline rallies with real clarity of purpose, Konta broke last year's runner-up to 15 to move up 3-1, and then unleashed on consecutive backhand return winners, one in each direction, to capture the double break - and a game later, her second consecutive 6-1 set over Stephens.
Pressing home her advantage over a shellshocked Stephens, Konta came through another multi-deuce game to open the second set, breaking with a canny net-rush that forced Stephens' pass wide. The American would gather herself for the remainder of match to notch up a few solid service holds - but unfortunately for her, this coincided with Konta reaching even greater heights on her own delivery. The 2017 Miami champion would total six aces as she powered into her third major semifinal, and a Stephens forehand drifting into the tramlines sealed victory.