RABAT, Morocco - No.7 seed Johanna Konta was down three match points in the second set and down a break in the third, but she rallied to defeat Wang Yafan and advance into the second round at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Rabat., 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-4.
The on-the-rise Chinese player Wang, who today turned 25 years old, has been steadily climbing up the ranks after a solid start to the season. She won her first WTA title in Acapulco, reached the semifinals in Shenzhen and claimed her first Top 10 win against Elina Svitolina in Miami.
But coming into the event in Rabat, Wang was struggling on the clay - a surface where she doesn’t have much experience. She’s only won one completed WTA main draw match on clay in her career - last year in Bucharest - and was eager to increase her count.
Up against Britain’s Konta, Wang faced a tough, dialed-in opponent - but one that similarly struggles to find results on clay. In fact, Konta has yet to post a positive win-loss clay season in her career, and she’s never won a match at Roland Garros.
Full of confidence after her heroics against Kazakhstan resulted in a historic Great Britain win in Fed Cup, Konta took the court against Wang - but quickly found herself in trouble.
It was Wang who claimed the first foothold in a rollercoaster first set. After weathering a spate of four straight breaks of serve that left them level at 2-2, the Chinese player struck again to make it 4-2. Konta was trying to mix up dropshots into her game, finding initial success, but Wang quickly cottoned on. Back on serve after Konta broke back at 4-3, Wang regained control to restore her lead at 5-4 and claim the set with a final break.
In the second set, it was Konta who raised her level - after trading blows at the start, Konta zoomed ahead and reeled off four games in a row to make it 5-2. But just as the finish line was in sight for Konta, serving up 5-2, it all started to unravel as Wang applied the pressure.
Wang broke serve to make it 5-3 and quickly consolidated to cut down even more on the Brit’s lead at 5-4. Two double faults in a row from Konta gave Wang another break to finally level the score at 5-5, and after winning her fourth game in a row at 6-5, Wang created three match points, up 0-40 on Konta’s serve.
But with her back against the wall, the Brit pulled out her best tennis to send them into a tiebreak. Seeing three match points come and go seemed to deflate the Chinese player, and Konta took control from there. She reeled off all seven points to close out the perfect tiebreak and escape with the second set.
The match still had more twists left in the third set, when Wang once ahead claimed an early break to lead 1-0. But it quickly got away from her as Konta once again got going - she broke at 3-3 and reeled off the next two games to bring up match points of her own at 5-3. Konta had to do it the hard way, and finally broke through to claim the match after two hours and 38 minutes.
“I’m very proud of myself for the way I competed,” Konta told press afterward. “I lost that first set and then my opponent had three match points in the second set.
“I’m very happy to have battled through that, to have found a way to first of all win that second set and then come back from 3-1 down in that third set.
“There was very little in the match for it to go either way. I’m very pleased to have made it through and to come back tomorrow and play the second round.”
Up next, Konta will take on Ana Bogdan, who eased past Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-3 yesterday to advance into the second round.