NEW YORK, NY, USA - Over the years, No.16 seed Johnna Konta has often found her kryptonite in Karolina Pliskova - but overturned a 1-6 head-to-head deficit in a thriller today to make her first US Open quarterfinal, upsetting the No.3 seed 6-7(1), 6-3, 7-5 in two hours and 19 minutes.
The result means that Konta has now reached the last eight at each of the Grand Slams, as well as notching up three such runs in a single season for the first time - and she is also the first Briton to reach the US Open quarterfinals since Jo Durie in 1983.
Afterwards, though, Konta was - as ever - quick to put matters in perspective. "I don't think there's a magic formula to stay until the end of Slams," she said. "Just as easily I could have lost in the first round - I was playing a great player [Daria Kasatkina]." But if there was one thing Konta was prepared to pinpoint, it was her willingness to stay on court for as long as it took. "Whatever the game asks of me, I'm prepared to be out there and play for as long as I need to - I will either do well or I don't," she explained.
"I don't feel any pressure to be out there for a short amount of time. I'm happy to stay out there for a long amount of time. I think a lot of matches now, the way they are, there's a lot of very tough, long battles that a lot of players are having. I feel prepared to be out there if I need to."
Despite her ostensibly lopsided head-to-head against Pliskova, a closer look at the pair's previous matches indicated that the series might have been closer than it seemed: five of their seven encounters had gone to three sets, while on hard courts they were in fact tied at 1-1. Today, two dramatically fluctuating sets were once again followed by a decider that went down to the wire in a marathon of aggressive tennis in which Konta tallied 45 winners to 36 unforced errors, and Pliskova 36 winners to 39 unforced errors.
In each of the first two sets, the player who dominated from the outset wound up losing. Konta roared out of the gates, breaking immediately and dominating much of the run of play in the first set - but the moral of the story today was the importance of the insurance break. The 28-year-old would have at least one break point in Pliskova's first four service games; playing almost error-free first-strike tennis and creating fine angles from the baseline, it seemed only a matter of time before Konta would take one.
But Pliskova plugged away stolidly to keep within touching distance. The gulf in the former World No.1's winning percentage behind her first serve (77%) and second serve (23%) would be a crucial statistic: Pliskova's formidable first serve, which garnered her 16 aces, would mostly be too hot for Konta to handle, but the Rabat and Rome finalist would relentlessly punish each and every second serve that came her way. In the first set, Pliskova found just enough first serves to stave off nine out of 10 break points - and when Konta produced a flurry of unforced errors when serving for the set, the 27-year-old seized her opportunity to dominate the tiebreak.
Konta's previous two losses in majors had also involved losing break leads against Czechs: in the Roland Garros semifinals, she served for both sets against Marketa Vondrousova, but ended up losing 7-5, 7-6(2); in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, a 3-0 start against Barbora Strycova turned into a 7-6(5), 6-1 loss. Asked whether she had felt today would again be "one of those days", though, Konta was sanguine.
"It's part of the game to sometimes not be able to serve a set out," she pointed out. "It's part of the game to go down a break and come back. Equally for her, she could have taken a lot of confidence from being able to come back from 5-3 down, going a break up in that second set. I didn't really get discouraged by it. I was playing against the No.3 player in the world. Nothing is going to be given to me or be easy. Being 5-3 up is by no means a guarantee that it's my right to win that set. I just have to keep working. I felt I did that in that second set, as well, even going a break down."
Riding her momentum - and increased first serve percentage - into the second set as Konta began to spray increasingly wild errors, Pliskova fired a forehand down the line to break en route to a 3-1 lead. But this time, the roles would be reversed: doubling down on her strategy to the extent of winning 100% of the points behind Pliskova's second serve, Konta found the balance between her spectacular winners and loose mistakes to reel off five straight games to level the match, saving two break points in the final game with more bold forehand winners.
After two seesaw frames, both players reinforced their foundations in a third set between two immovable objects. Konta and Pliskova would both land their highest percentage of first serves with the stakes at their highest - Konta at 74% and Pliskova at 76% - and consequently, neither would face a break point through the first 10 games.
It was a question of who would blink first, and the answer was Pliskova. Serving at 5-5, the Brisbane, Rome and Eastbourne champion threw in a sloppy game - a netted drive volley, a forehand putaway over the baseline and her ninth double fault of the day - out of nowhere, leaving Konta serving for the match.
This, too, was more of an adventure than any of Konta's other service games in the final set - but throughout, the three-time major semifinalist had displayed an extra gear off the ground, and this panache came to the fore once again. Smacking forehand winners with relish to save a break point and reach match point, Konta went through on her second opportunity as Pliskova missed the mark with a final forehand. A quarterfinal against either No.5 seed Elina Svitolina or No.10 seed Madison Keys awaits as Konta bids to complete her full house of Grand Slam semifinals.