MELBOURNE: Johanna Konta says she has learned not to panic in big moments after holding her nerve to blast into her second straight Australian Open quarter-final Monday.
And the in-form British ninth seed will need to keep her wits about her when she faces her next opponent — the mighty Serena Williams, who is in search of a 23rd Grand Slam crown.
The 25-year-old has been in imperious form, setting herself up as a genuine title contender, and she swatted aside Russian 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4 in suffocating heat on Margaret Court Arena.
It was her ninth win in a row after lifting this month’s Sydney International title, a streak she attributes to a new belief that she can overcome hurdles in pressure situations.
“I think more than anything it’s more trying to disassociate myself from the importance of the moment,” she said.
“I think it’s more keeping things in perspective and not panicking if I were to lose that service game or that point.
“I think just keeping things in good perspective and just having trust in myself that however the match will swing, I will always be there to give my best and to always try to leave it all out on court and fight till the very end.”
Sydney-born Konta has blossomed over the past two years, crediting not just a new mental attitude but greater maturity for her progress.
It helped her last year become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1983 in an eye-catching performance at Melbourne Park, where she was making her debut.
– Never-say-die –
Konta had won all three of her previous matches with Makarova, including at the same stage of the Australian Open last year, and the Russian never looked like getting her revenge.
A former Melbourne semi-finalist, in 2015, she upset sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova to set up the Konta meeting. But the Briton was too good.
She came out of the blocks firing, snatching a break to go 2-0 in front and another for 5-1 as she whacked 11 winners, with just four unforced errors, to take the set in only 24 minutes.
Despite being belted in the first game, Makarova came back strongly. But Konta’s never-say-die attitude again came to the fore and she reeled off five straight second-set games to seal victory.
Next up is Williams, who Konta admits is an idol she used to watch as a young girl. But she insists she will not be intimidated when they meet on Wednesday.
“I believe in my own ability. I believe in the good things that I bring to the court, and I believe in my ability to fight till the very end,” she said.
“Now, there’s that and then there’s also an opponent out there, and this one’s going to be Serena Williams.
“I think it’s about playing, me going out there and doing what I want to do against her, and it will be about just staying focused on that.
“And if that brings me good things on that day, and if that puts me in a position to come through, then that’s great.”