Melbourne: British world number nine Johanna Konta swept past experienced Belgian Kirsten Flipkens to reaffirm her credentials as a force to be reckoned with at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old ground down her opponent 7-5, 6-2 in stifling conditions and will next play either Japan’s Naomi Osaka or Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum in the second round.
A fan favourite in Australia courtesy of being born in Sydney, the Briton has blossomed over the past two years, crediting a new mental attitude and more maturity.
It helped her last year become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1983 in an eye-catching performance at Melbourne Park, where she was making her debut.
She set alarm bells ringing among other players with a semi-final run at the Shenzhen Open this month then by beating world number three Agnieszka Radwanska to win last week’s Sydney International.
“It was incredibly tricky. She has the kind of game that can trouble any player,” said Konta.
“I tried to play myself in to the match and I’m happy to be through. A lot has happened in the last year and I’m just enjoying playing and trying to get better every day.”
The Belgian served strongly but Konta got her eye in to keep the returns in court and started to dominate from the baseline, forcing a forehand error to get a break for a 4-3 lead.
But Flipkens, in her ninth Australian Open to Konta’s second, didn’t give up and came out on top of a gripping 10th game in which they traded break and set points, to level the match at 5-5.
Undeterred, Konta broke straight back then held serve to finally take the set in a gruelling 51 minutes under hot sun.
Named the WTA’s most improved player for 2016, she came out strongly in the second set and got a break in the fifth game as the fight went out of Flipkens who succumbed meekly against a player in fine form.
Speaking after the game, Konta said: “I’m always aware how you do the week before is no reflection of how you’re going to do the week after. I really try to take each on its own merit, and I’m very happy with the level I was able to produce last week and the number of matches and how I was able to come through each one.
“But this tournament is a new challenge, and it comes with completely different obstacles. So I’m happy to have just given myself one more chance to play another one here.”