MELBOURNE, Australia - Former Australian Open semifinalist Johanna Konta was pushed to the brink in a first-round nail-biter against Ajla Tomljanovic, emerging victorious in three sets to move into the second round 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-6.
“Overall I’m just very happy to have been able to stay there with her when she was also playing well,” Konta told reporters after the match. “I was able to play a lot of tennis on my terms, which was important for me to learn from - especially after last time we played a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane.
“I didn’t get to win as many of these tough matches last year, but it’s only the third tournament of the year so there’s still plenty of tennis to be played. Hopefully I can win many of these this season.”
Britain’s No.1 Konta came into the match likely seeking revenge for Brisbane, where Tomljanovic had defeated her in straight sets earlier this month.
But she is also looking to spark joy into her 2019 season, and the Happy Slam has always been her happiest hunting ground: it was here in Melbourne where she enjoyed her career breakthrough in 2016, defeating Venus Williams en route her maiden major semifinal, backing with a quarterfinal run a year later.
Tomljanovic was off to a fast start, getting on board with a break in the first game and then gritting out a hold to improve to 2-0. But that marathon service hold was a sign that Konta wasn’t going down easy - she had Tomljanovic under pressure throughout and creating plenty of chances to break back.
Tomljanovic missed a crucial opportunity to go up 3-0 the next game, however, as Konta denied her opponent four break points to prevent the double break. Instead, the Sydney-born Brit, who had been knocking on the door since the very first game, suddenly roared to life.
Her shots had more bite, outpacing Tomljanovic with almost double the winners (20 to 11), most of which came during the latter half of the set, once she was settled into the match. She got the break back at 3-3, and stayed evenly matched for the games that followed as they charged into a tiebreak.
The pair were level for the first six points - but then Konta drew first blood, earning the minibreak at 4-3. Konta didn’t look back after that, and closed it out in style to take the opening set.
But after such an assured start, Konta will surely rue her missed opportunities in the second set. She held three break chances across two games, but she wasn’t able to convert as Tomljanovic found her range once again.
Tomljanovic batted away Konta’s first break chance in the first game, and then soared ahead late in the set with a crucial break at 4-2. Konta then had another two chances to break straight back a game later, but Tomljanovic covered the court to deny her once again. The Aussie rallied to claim the last three games in a row and send the match into a deciding set.
Both players were neck and neck during the third set, with each game going to the server despite both having chances to earn a break. In the tiebreak, Konta peppered some clever dropshots into her game, finding joy and moving Tomljanovic around the court. Konta finally broke the deadlock at 7-7, pulling away to claim the last three points and seal the match after nearly three hours on court.
Up next for the Brit, she’ll take on No.18 seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round.
“We haven’t played since [the 2015 US Open], so it’s been a few years,” Konta said. “She’s a great player, I mean she has two Grand Slam titles to her name. She plays big tennis, she competes very well. I know she’s going to be a big challenge for me.”