Johanna Konta beats Sloane Stephens to reach semi-final
Stephens lost in the final last year to Simona Halep and had been backed to get there again
Johanna Konta returns the ball to Sloane Stephens during their women’s singles quater-final match. Photograph: Getty Images
Johanna Konta left Chris Evert speechless with the quality of her performance as she swept aside Sloane Stephens to reach a third grand slam semi-final at the French Open.
It was scarcely believable that this was the same player who had never won a main-draw match at Roland Garros before this year as she raced to a 6-1 6-4 victory in just 70 minutes.
Stephens lost in the final last year to Simona Halep and had been backed to get there again but she was powerless to stop Konta, who hit 25 winners in the match and only dropped one point on serve in the second set.
Evert, who won seven singles titles at Roland Garros in the 1970s and 80s, is working for Eurosport at the tournament, and she said: “I am speechless, and not many matches make me speechless.
“The way Konta played that match, not giving Sloane a chance. Jo Konta, I take my hat off to you, I have never seen her play that kind of tennis, she would have beaten anybody the way she played today.”
By reaching the last four, Konta has matched her own best grand slam performances at the Australian Open in 2016 and Wimbledon the following year, as well as the performance of Jo Durie, who was the last British woman to reach the last four here in 1983.
But none of Konta’s previous runs has been quite like this, with the 28-year-old simply bulldozing through her opposition on a surface that had been by far her worst prior to this season.
Konta is never one to get carried away, and she said of her reaction: “I think happy more than anything. I feel just really happy. I feel really pleased with how I dealt with the conditions out there and just how I gave myself space to play. I thought I played the game.
“It’s definitely one of my best performances. It’s hard to pinpoint what is the best performance, because you’re always dealing with different types of opponents or different types of conditions.
“I definitely thought I played well behind my serve more than anything, and kept a good variety in there, which I think made it also difficult for Sloane to find her rhythm in those games. But I think overall I just played a good match.”
Stephens is one of the best athletes on tour but she was made to look slow by the pace of her opponent’s game, and the American said: “Obviously she played well. She was serving really well.
“There is not much you can do when someone is playing like that. She definitely played her game today. I didn’t get a chance to really get into the match.”
A lot of credit must go to Konta’s French coach Dimitri Zavialoff, who she began working with in October and who has imbued her with the self-belief to trust in her game and her decision-making.
Konta’s fierce hitting will always be the basis of her game but she has added more spin, while her drop shots and volleys have been important factors in her success on clay this season.
“I’ve always said that whenever I step out onto the court, I’m always going to have a chance,” said Konta. “I don’t think any player on tour can go on court against me and feel like they’ve definitely got it.”
Having faced Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams in her previous two slam semi-finals, Konta will be in the unfamiliar position of favourite this time around, whether she faces 31st seed Petra Martic or Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova.
Konta will climb back inside the top 20 in the rankings on Monday and would return to the top 10 if she goes on to become the first British winner of the title since Sue Barker in 1976.