Johanna Konta’s clay education continues and, on a scorching Roman Thursday, she absorbed some useful lessons from seven-slam veteran Venus Williams, who beat her for only the second time in five meetings to advance to the fourth round of the Italian Open.
Williams took just under two hours to win 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. Losing to the elder sibling was no disgrace, but Konta will be disappointed she could not hold her consistency in key moments. She next heads to Paris to prepare for for the French Open, followed by Nottingham, Birminham and Eastbourne before Wimbledon.
Konta book-ended her performance with two ordinary sets, rising to greater heights in mid-match, but in a first set that was closer than the score suggests she had Williams on the rack in the fifth game. That might have changed the complexion of the contest, but the 36-year-old American drew on her enormous stores of will and all-round class to survive.
Her deft change of direction wrong-footed Konta all the way to the end of the frame, aided by her opponent’s 13 unforced errors and malfunctioning second serve.
Konta listened intently to her coach, Wim Fissett, during the break and reset to good effect, but Williams continued to pick her spots, deep and wide. Konta saved break point and held through deuce for 2-1 with some deft placement of her own.
Konta put six break points on Williams in the seventh game – including an over-rule that forced a replayed point – before getting to 5-3, and serving out to level at a set apiece. A match that had looked problematic for the British No1 an hour earlier was taking on the look of their tough two-setter in Miami this year, and the three sets that too them to the limits of their endurance in Stanford last year, both of which Konta won.
Williams, hunting for her 50th career title (Konta has three) might have lost a little speed and zip, but she knows how to win a tennis match, and, under a beating sun, she hit selectively and with purpose, taking a 4-1 lead with an ace down the middle, her fourth on a hot afternoon.
She had earned her dominance through grit, saving seven of eight break points in an hour and 44 minutes, and she cashed in to break Konta a third time just when it mattered, and served out the match with a superb backhand winner into the deuce corner.