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Johanna Konta breaks through in Rabat

Johanna Konta ended a great week in Rabat by making the final. Up to this point the Briton had never managed to advance beyond a quarterfinal on the red dirt on the WTA tour. Typically, British players have a reputation for not much enjoying the clay and, whilst it’s not entirely deserved, there certainly isn’t a strong tradition of clay-court tennis in the UK.

Nonetheless, Andy Murray managed to win three clay-court titles, including the Madrid Open and the Italian Open. He also reached the final at Roland Garros in 2015, coming up just short against Novak Djokovic, whilst Britain won the Davis Cup final in 2015 on a clay court. Johanna Konta, however, has long struggled on the surface. Although at the lower ITF-level Konta won three clay-court titles, the most recent of these wins came back in 2010. At tour-level, Konta has struggled badly.

She had also made a poor start to the season, with a quarterfinal showing in Acapulco her best effort coming into the Morocco Open. And considering her historic struggles on clay, few would have expected her to turn it around in Rabat.

The Breakthrough

But that is exactly what she did. Under the tutelage of her coach Dimitri Zavialoff, hired towards the end of last season, the seventh seeded Konta played with confidence and composure all week. She faced a tough opening match against Mexican Open champion Wang Yafan, and looked to be in trouble after dropping the first set. However, as happened in the recent Fed Cup matches in the World Group play-off’s against Uzbekistan, Konta rallied, winning the second set in a tiebreak that she claimed without dropping a point.

In the decider, Konta took an early lead only to be broken when serving for the match. The Brit then had to save more break points before eventually prevailing 4-6 7-6 6-4. Konta was made to work hard again for her second-round win over Romania’s Ana Bogdan and her quarterfinal victory against Hsieh Su-Wei, with both matches also going the distance.

But Konta found things rather more straightforward in the semifinals. She played with real freedom, perhaps relaxed in the knowledge that she had put her clay-court woes in the past. She swept past Ajla Tomljanovic in the first set, and though the Australian dug in to make a contest out of the second, Konta claimed the win in straight sets, 6-2 7-6, to reach her first clay-court final on the WTA tour.

Konta started the final extremely well. The Brit steamed through the first set against Maria Sakkari and looked to be on course to take her first clay-court title. But Sakkari, who to that point in the final had seemed out of sorts, righted the ship in the second set and Konta’s challenge faded badly in the decider, with Sakkari ultimately claiming a 2-6 6-4 6-1 win. But Konta will surely still be pleased with her efforts. The timing of her breakthrough on the clay could also hardly be better, with Roland Garros just around the corner. If Konta can carry this form into Madrid and Rome, who knows what damage she might end up doing at the French Open.

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