MELBOURNE, Australia – Unseeded Johanna Konta became the first British woman to reach the Australian Open semifinals since 1977 when she outlasted relentless qualifier, Zhang Shuai, 6-4, 6-1.
“I was really just taking it one match at a time while I was here and, even more simply, a point at a time,” she told former British No.1 Sam Smith during her on-court interview.
Not since Sue Barker made the final four nearly 40 years ago had a Brit gone this far in Melbourne, and Konta had to face a battle-tested opponent across the net; Zhang began her tournament with three wins in qualifying and a massive win over No.2 seed Simona Halep.
“She definitely didn’t make it easy for me today; every time I got a little bit ahead, she was constantly there.”
But Konta’s run had been equally impressive Down Under, defeating No.8 seed Venus Williams in the first round and surviving a thrilling three-setter with 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova in the round of 16. Showing few signs of fatigue, Konta raced out to a 5-2 lead, but needed six set points to put away Zhang, who nearly brought the match back on level terms in the tenth game.
“I really enjoyed playing in front of you guys,” she said, addressing the spectators on Rod Laver Arena. “This is why we play, to get the chance to play in front of such a wonderful crowd.
“I just wanted to make sure I came out and played the best level I could and, hopefully, gave everyone some good entertainment!”
With the first set in hand, the Brit never looked back, hitting 28 winners and drawing 20 unforced errors out the Chinesewoman to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal in 83 minutes – though not in ideal fashion for the competitive Konta.
“Unfortunately, I won it on a let cord; I’m not that proud of that. But I’m happy with how I was able to fight every single point.”
Asked about her family watching at home, Konta was tongue-in-cheek regarding the time difference – the match ended a little before 4AM in the UK.
“I’m pretty sure they have jet lag; they’ve been staying up at all ridiculous times of the morning. I’m sure they’re looking forward me to go home so they can sleep properly!”
Up next for Konta is No.7 seed Angelique Kerber, who provided an arguably even more shocking upset by taking out pre-tournament favorite Victoria Azarenka to reach her first Australian Open semifinal.
“It will be my first match against her. She’s Top 10 and an incredibly decorated, successful competitor and player. I’m really just going to go out there, bring to the court what I can, try my best, hopefully give the crowd a great match, and we’ll see how it goes.”
A fitting embrace after a great contest #Konta #zhang #ausopen Watch more https://t.co/Ek545ZyE1J https://t.co/PXCJl0eCDg
— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2016