Vondrousova into RG final

 - Ian Chadband

Unseeded teen Marketa Vondrousova shocks Johanna Konta in semi-finals.

Marketa Vondrousova© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Marketa Vondrousova could hardly have started her maiden Grand Slam semi-final any more calamitously. Yet she could also hardly have finished it any more exquisitely than with the shot that climaxed the exceptional performance on Friday that saw her become the youngest Roland-Garros singles finalist in a dozen years.

A lovely, sliced backhand that fizzed just over the net then plopped and died, as her experienced opponent Johanna Konta gave up the ghost of a chance to reach it, saw Vondousova seal a 7-5, 7-6(2) victory.

It was a drop shot, her brand new shiny trademark, that announced the delightful arrival of a new tennis star; and the shy, smiling Vondrousova, at 19, seemed wholly at home with the role, her evident enjoyment shining through afterwards.

Asked why she thought she smiled more than most players out there when on court, she grinned: “I'm, like ‘oh, that was a nice shot’ and I'm just trying to stay positive, just enjoying my matches. I'm not stressing about it. It's amazing. It's the best week of my life so far. I'm just very happy with everything.”

So she should be, having still not dropped a single set here this week, the first player since her fellow Czech leftie, Lucie Safarova, achieved that particular feat four years ago.

Yet it could hardly have started worse for her as she began with two double faults in her opening service game on a difficult, blustery morning on Court Simonne-Mathieu, looking all at sea as she surrendered the first 10 points of the match all too tamely.

Yet this all proved a grand illusion. An hour and 45 minutes later, the Czech youngster with the lovely, whipped forehands, the masterful drops and icy temperament had proved herself too steely and streetwise for the Briton who was left frustrated at the semi-final stage of a Grand Slam for a third time.

And how appropriate that it ended with that pearl. “Yeah, I mean, it’s my thing,” she smiled, thinking of her capacity to consign opponents to demise by drop shot.  

Marketa Vondrousova et Johanna Konta©Julien Crosnier / FFT

It all made Vondrousova the youngest Roland-Garros singles finalist since Ana Ivanovic 12 years ago. The Serb went on to lose that final against Justine Henin back in 2007 but it would be no surprise to see the unseeded Vondrousova make the champion grade when tomorrow she tackles the No.8 seed Ashleigh Barty, who ruined the prospect of an all-teenage final by defeating Amanda Anisimova in three compelling sets.

“She's top 10 now and she's playing amazing tennis,” said Vondrousova, of her Australian final opponent. “She's mixing it also like me, so I think it's going to be interesting match. I'm just gonna focus and try to relax.”

That ability to stay relaxed is clearly a rare strength, especially when it appeared that Konta, who served for the first set and also for the second, was the one who got tight.

"I'm just trying to stay positive, just enjoying my matches. I'm not stressing about it. It's amazing. It's the best week of my life so far."

At no point in either of those service games did the Briton ever really convince that she was ready to break through this psychological barrier of the last-four blues.

Seeking to become the first British finalist here since Sue Barker, the champion in 1976, Konta will look back at two of the three set points she earned in the opening stanza, when, at 4-5, 15-40 on Vondrousova’s serve, she blew two glorious chances to draw first blood.

First, she despatched a drive volley wide and then, when in seeming control of the next rally, she shovelled what should have been a backhand winner into the tape. These were golden opportunities but Konta insisted she had no regrets.

“I feel very, very comfortable and very assured in the fact that I did do the best that I can, the best that I could out there,” she said, noting rightly how “incredibly blustery” it had been when she took those attacking options.

Yet Vondrousova held firmer and in the decisive tie-break played superbly while Konta faltered. The Briton had no arguments; she’d been well beaten.

“I think she reads the game really well and she has that added variety with the way the ball comes back,” said Konta. “I think she generally enjoys playing the game, that's how it feels out there, she competes really well, as well, there are very few drop-offs from how she plays. She asks you a lot of questions out there, and I think that's a real gift of hers.”

Hometown hero

It’s a gift that Vondrousova, who hails from the little western Czech town of Sokolov, presents with a smiling face. “It's a long journey. Of course, I'm 19. But when I was 16, I wasn't like this, but it's almost like I'm having so much fun on court. I'm playing good," she said.

“It’s, like, 20,000 (people in Sokolov), really small. I'm getting so much messages also from, like, my hometown, and also my mom. She's talking with so many people out there, and it's very nice. You don't have so much people playing final of Grand Slam there. So it's amazing.

“I think everybody's going to know me now!”