Jo Konta is beaten in three sets by Victoria Azarenka in semi-final

Jo Konta falls short in Western and Southern Open semi-final as British No 1 is beaten in three sets by Victoria Azarenka

  • Johanna Konta lost to Victoria Azarenka in the Western & Southern Open semi
  • Azarenka won the match 4-6 6-4 6-1 and will face face Naomi Osaka in the final
  • The 29-year-old was aiming to make her ninth career final before crashing out 

A month on from losing her first post-lockdown match to British youngster Jodie Burrage, Jo Konta went toe-to-toe last night with the rejuvenated former world number one Victoria Azarenka.

The GB number one struck the ball with power and purpose, but it was not enough to reach today’s relocated Cincinatti Open final. A late surge from twice Flushing Meadows runner-up Azarenka, her returns as sharp as at her peak, saw her take their semi-final 4-6 6-4 6-1.

There was, however, plenty for Konta to take from this strong pre-US Open showing. On the quick and freshly-laid New York courts she looks in good shape for her clash with national number two Heather Watson in the first round of the coming Grand Slam, one of the tournament’s more interesting initial pairings.

Johanna Konta lost to Victoria Azarenka in the Western & Southern Open semi-final

Her form was certainly a far cry from that when she faced Burrage at the ‘Battle of the Brits’ team event. Watson also featured there, and found it a far more enjoyable week than her fellow British star.

While the tournament was held behind closed doors at Roehampton, stories soon began to emerge that Konta was something of a player apart from the rest of her compatriots.

Starved of competition, the large majority threw themselves wholeheartedly into the scratch team allegiances of the ‘Bulldogs’ and the ‘Union Jacks’, to a slightly odd extent given that the two sides were not picked on any basis of age or geography.

Despite the heavy schedule of matches – demanded by the betting industry content aggregator company who put in most of the money – the British number one ended up playing just two early singles matches and a mixed doubles, before sitting the rest out.

She was not there at all on the seventh and final day, and during the team presentations on the Sunday night was substituted with a life-size cardboard cutout of her, much to the hilarity of those assembled.

Azarenka won the match 4-6 6-4 6-1 against Konta and will face face Naomi Osaka in the final

Konta’s defeat against Azarenka comes a month after losing to British youngster Jodie Burrage

Some did not consider herself to have joined in with the spirit sufficiently, and to have been over-demanding about when, and who, she played during what was essentially an exhibition.

Konta, for her part, viewed the whole thing purely as preparation for the first tournament of the opening American WTA Tour event that followed.

She is also said to have felt that some of the barracking from the sidelines from the likes of Dan Evans and Andy Murray on the opposite team was excessive. According to several sources, regular hitting partner and former GB player Dan Smethurst had a firm word with his good friend Evans to that effect.

Konta has actually given good service to the GB Fed Cup team, but it is through being slightly different, single-minded and pursuing her individual goals ruthlessly that she has fulfilled her potential after a modest early career. She is around the sixth favourite to win the US Open, and remains far ahead of the Britpack.

During this strange summer the LTA made the controversial decision to hire a second consecutive tennis newcomer, Michael Bourne from UK Sport, to become its Performance Director.

One of the many things he will need to learn is that in tennis, perhaps above any other sport, those who achieve tend to be mavericks who plough their own furrow. Konta, ambitious and highly intelligent, is a prime example.

Her latest choice of coach, Thomas Hogstedt, shows that at 29 she is still prepared to challenge herself.

Konta said the barracking from the likes of Andy Murray on the opposite team was excessive

Konta is still prepared to challenge herself while having Thomas Hogstedt as her coach

The Swede is reckoned by some to be an awkward customer and this week Laura Robson reported that one of his successful former clients, Maria Sharapova, used to avoid going to dinner with him.

Konta believes he can add to her game and therefore cares little about the other stuff. The thought occurs of what a player you would have had, combining the perpetually-injured Robson’s ball striking ability with the desire of the player who has left her so far behind.

An irony of Konta being paired against Watson is that so many of the GB women are at pains to avoid playing, or even practising, with each other. That was one reason for the embarrassingly poor turnout for July’s closed British Progress Tour female championships, and is another situation Bourne will have to get his head around.

In fact there is no history of animosity between Konta and Watson – the latter has always been generous about the former’s achievements – so there will not be a personal edge when they meet. Konta will not face the same relentless attack on her serve as last night.

Azarenka now faces Naomi Osaka, who won her semi-final against Elise Mertens after her refusal to play on Thursday brought the tournament to a temporary halt.

‘For me it’s been a little bit stressful,’ said Osaka. ‘I couldn’t really sleep last night so I am glad I was able to play at a pretty good level.’ 

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