EASTBOURNE, UK - A virtuoso performance from Ons Jabeur put paid to No.14 seed Johanna Konta's hopes of progressing in her home tournament at the Nature Valley International as the unseeded player peaked to win their third-round contest 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 10 minutes.
After the match, Jabeur said that the grass surface is "one of the best courts I like, so everyone's kind of waiting for me to do great results, which puts a lot of pressure on me. But hopefully this is gonna be great preparation for Wimbledon. It's one of the tournaments I love, and I'm just going to play match by match. If I can win this one and be more confident for Wimbledon, then it's going to be the best."
From a break down in the first set, the Tunisian delivered some spectacular shotmaking, tangling her opponent up in an array of spins as well as showing off a live arm with flashy forehand bullets, as she sealed a third consecutive victory for the first time since her run to the Moscow final last October.
Indeed, despite her evident talent, Jabeur's consistency has rarely been her forte: coming into Eastbourne, the 24-year-old had been just 5-10 in WTA main draws this season - and this week marks her first quarterfinal run of 2019.
However, as though liberated by battling wins from a set down over Evgeniya Rodina and Mandy Minella in her two previous rounds, Jabeur rarely put a foot wrong against a much higher-ranked rival today. This was despite Konta playing an extremely clean match: the Briton only committed eight unforced errors to 15 winners.
"[Konta] served really good, it's tough to break her," said Jabeur. "But I think I was thinking in the match, just go forward, hit the ball hard, because it's tough on the grass to return these kind of shots.
"For me, that was the key to have, I think, more possibilities to break her during the first set and the second set. It worked pretty good. So I'm really happy with that."
In the first set, two-time semifinalist Konta captured the first break to go up 3-2 - but was thence outmanoeuvred as Jabeur pulled out all the stops to reel off the next six games in a row.
A wonderful running forehand pass would be the start of the World No.62's turnaround as she broke back immediately, and over the next few games the crowd were treated to casually flicked dropshots, leaping high volleys, stunning forehand winners from way out of position and a ludicrously sidespun approach that completely flummoxed Konta.
Jabeur's purple patches have sometimes ended as abruptly as they have arrived, but if Konta was hoping for a drop-off in the Moscow runner-up's level, it never arrived. Indeed, under the pressure of Jabeur relentlessly attacking her returns, it was the Roland Garros semifinalist who cracked, coughing up a handful of groundstroke errors to concede her serve in the first game of the second set.
Jabeur needed no further encouragement to continue zoning. Yet another running forehand pass, arguably the most spectacular of the day, a backhand slice pass down the line and some more magic sidespin paved the way to the double break; ultimately, last year's Ilkley ITF W100 champion would rack up 22 winners today to only nine unforced errors and win 22 out of 26 points behind her first serve.
Konta would have one more glimmer of a chance to get back into the match in the sixth game, but could not take advantage of a 0-40 lead, with Jabeur saving two break points with a smash and a slice winner and Konta sending a backhand into the net on the third. Two games later, Jabeur served out victory to 30, taking her second match point with her second ace of the day.
"I knew what was her best shots and the key was to focus more on my game," said Jabeur. "Not many girls that like slice or dropshots, so for me, if I can do that, then it's gonna be more difficult for them to, I mean, play their game or do whatever they can do."
Jabeur was complimentary towards Konta afterwards. "I like how she is, all the time, making the same routines in the serve, how she's always focused even if she's missing. She doesn't get angry or negative on the court.
"For me, I like her. She's one of the best players I like on tour. She's the nicest outside the court, on the court. And she's a fair player. She really inspires me. Because I cannot do the same routine all the time, I get fed up. So I honestly appreciate players like this."
Next up for Jabeur will be unseeded Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, who dispatched Zhang Shuai of China, 6-2, 6-2. "[Cornet and I] never played before, this is the first time," said Jabeur. "We played against each other in practice, but this is the official match tomorrow.
"I mean, she's a great player. She has more experience than me, but I feel like grass is my field, my kind of court. I like to do [that] kind of stuff. So I think it's going to be a pretty good match."