Johanna Konta within One Step of a First Major Final at the French Open

French Open Women's Semifinal

Johanna Konta has been in unbelievable form during this clay-court swing. The rapid change in results and confidence really came at the tournament in Rabat earlier on in the year, where she made the final, and she really has carried that momentum throughout the rest of this clay court season.

The Brit then went all the way to the final of the event in Rome, the second biggest final of her career to date, and now finds herself competing for a first Major final as she takes on the teen sensation from Czech Republic Marketa Vondrousova.

Changes Konta made for clay

What we have seen from the British No.1 in the last few months has basically been a player willing to adapt her game to the surface and experiment with new things in order to flourish on the clay. The Brit is renowned for her heavy ball-strikes from the back of the court and her ability to take time away aggressively on the backhand side. She really plays her best tennis when she gets in her opponent’s face in the baseline exchanges. That is something she continues to do and do well.

The one thing Konta has definitely added, though, is her commitment to apply variety in her overall baseline game. She now uses the drop shot extensively to draw her opponents out of a comfortable baseline rhythm, and she also now is improving in the forecourt. Konta has always been a player that can take the ball out of the air and use the drive volley well, but what had been missing was the finesse side of the game. The fine touches and finishing strokes at the net at times evaded her, but are still things she’s willing to improve.

What we saw in her quarterfinal win against America’s Sloane Stephens was just how well she is serving right now. As we often see with many players on tour, once they find a good, seamless rhythm from the service line, the rest of the game follows. That is the exact same thing we are seeing with Konta. Not only is she serving well under pressure, but she’s rarely showing too many dips in her level throughout the course of a match. Once she breaks, she then relies on the quality of her serving to get through matches comfortably.

Semifinal match against Marketa Vondrousova

What can we look out for in this semifinal encounter against Marketa Vondrousova? The Czech star likes to use variety, and use variety consistently. She varies her ball placement, drags her opponent into uncomfortable areas of the court, and she gradually wears them down with the differentiation of shots she comes up with. The most devastating shot is the lefty forehand. She utilizes the angles on that side to drag her opponents out of position before putting the final ball away. It may be a key area that the Brit will look out for. The good thing for Konta is that those lefty forehands will be coming into her strong backhand wing, so that pattern of play can be somewhat negated from the baseline.

Vondrousova’s priority will be creating width. Konta, meanwhile, should be looking to smother her opponent with depth from the first return. It’s a ploy that has earned Konta a Top 5 ranking, and it should work well in this matchup.

Another thing to look out for in this encounter is who handles the nerves of a rare Grand Slam semifinal better. Konta already has the luxury of experiencing two previous Grand Slam semifinals, at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, but there is still a lot of pressure to deliver this tournament. And with big names already exiting the event, it puts even more expectation on the Brit to seize the moment, as you never know when the next one will come along. Vondrousova is a complete newbie to the occasion as she competes in a first Major semifinal at 19, so it will be fascinating if she can use her extensive bag of tricks to the best of her ability in uncharted territory.

The pair have met on two occasions. The Czech won their first encounter at Indian Wells on the hard courts last year, while Konta managed to win the most recent meeting. They played in Rome just a couple of weeks ago, where Konta ran away with the third set, 6-1. Vondrousova was running on empty that tournament after a grueling string of matches that week due to rain. Like I said, there are previous meetings that you can point to, but that goes out of the window in a Major semifinal. It is about which player reacts well to the new surroundings and the unfamiliar circumstances.

Main Photo from Getty