US Open: Johanna Konta overcomes on court illness to battle past Tsvetana Pironkova

Johanna Konta came through an incredibly tough battle, not just with Tsvetana Pironkova, but her own body as well as she collapsed on court during a three sets victory 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 at the US Open.

Cruise control from Konta in the first set

The British number one got off to the perfect start in this second round encounter, breaking the Bulgarian’s serve immediately before holding serve to love. Pironkova got her first game on the board with a far more comfortable hold of serve and gained a window of opportunity after two forehand errors left Konta at 30-30. The Brit refocused herself and held to move 3-1 in front.

The Bulgarian, ranked at 71 in the world, struggled to stay with Konta during the rallies as the 13th seed drew errors from Pironkova to move to 0-30. A sweetly struck backhand cross-court winner brought up three break points and the Brit only needed one, finishing the game with a drop shot winner.

Konta took complete control of the opening set, going on a 10 point winning streak to hold to love and take a 5-1 lead after just 20 minutes. Pironkova forced her British opponent to serve out the set and she duly obliged, taking the set 6-2.

The Brit’s momentum continues at the start of the second

The second set began on serve, with Konta earning an early break point chance in the third game. The Brit was unable to take advantage as she netted a backhand return of serve as the world number 71 held to stay out in front.

The break of serve looked to be inevitable as the 13th seed continued to press home her advantage. Konta made the breakthrough in the fifth game, striking a wrong footing cross-court backhand winner to move ahead 3-2.

The Bulgarian battles back

The following game threw up a bit of a surprise as Konta missed a backhand cross-court into the net to find herself two break points down. The world number 14 saved the first opportunity with a forehand winner but then fired a backhand beyond the baseline to hand the break of serve back. The Brit looked to bounce straight back but narrowly missed a forehand up the line attempted winner before errors crept in once again on the backhand side to allow the Bulgarian to escape with the hold.

The British number one's medical timeout lasted over 15 minutes. Photo: Getty
The British number one’s medical timeout lasted over 15 minutes. Photo: Getty

Konta suffers a health scare

The eleventh game was a marathon, lasting over 10 minutes, as Konta struggled with the conditions and had to face two set points. The Brit saved the first with a powerfully struck forehand, which skipped off the baseline, and saved a second with a volley put away.

It was as the 13th seed prepared to hit a second serve when facing a third set point that Konta collapsed, struggling to breathe as her heart rate increased rapidly and her ‘whole body went into shock’ as the Brit put it in her own words. These distressing scenes resulted in the doctor and trainer coming onto court to medically assess her and attempt to cool her body temperature down with ice packs.

The heat policy was not in force for the women at this time as it is based on air temperature, which was lower compared to the past two days. But it was the humidity at 80% which caused the conditions to be so tough and caused Konta to be in such discomfort on court.

Amazingly the world number 14 was able to carry on, but could not prevent losing the second set 7-5 as she hit her second serve long. The British number one then swiftly left the court to change clothes and cool herself down as she prepared to get ready for a final set decider.

The 13th seed digs deep to secure victory

Konta looked more like her old self at the beginning of the third set, giving her Bulgarian opponent the run around as she closed the game with a drop shot volley to break Pironkova’s serve immediately. After consolidating the break the Brit had a chance to move further in front but could not capitalize as the world number 71 held to close the gap to 2-1 in the final set.

The 13th seed came under intense pressure in the following game, serving at 30-30 and at deuce, but managed to come through the game, utilizing the drop shot which had the Bulgarian scrambling. It did not get any easier for Konta as she faced a break point in the following service game but once again the Brit hung tough, grinding out the points to take a 4-2 lead.

Unbelievably Konta closed in on victory as Pironkova’s game fell apart, with the Brit securing a second break of serve after two and a half hours of play to move one game away from the third round. The British number one had no problems seeing off an exasperated Pironkova in the final game, holding to love to secure victory 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. The 13th seed goes through to face Belinda Bencic in round three.

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