Serena Williams takes on Johanna Konta on Wednesday a blockbuster quarter-final at the 2017 Australian Open.
When the draw was conducted, a lot was said about the difficulty of Serena’s start to the tournament, with back-to-back matches against former top-ten stars, Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova; but Bencic and Safarova are exactly what they are- former top-ten stars, at least for now. Now Williams takes on a current top-ten star, who is in the form of her life, and purring with belief and confidence after a scintillating run of form.
Serena passed her early Melbourne tests in flying colours, easing past Bencic and Safarova in straights sets. She then took care of the less celebrated Nicole Gibbs in the third round, also in straights, before scraping past the battling Barbora Strycova in the fourth round. She is yet to drop a set in this tournament. However, the competition assumes a whole new level from here.
Serena has insisted through the tournament that she has nothing to prove, and nothing to lose, but that really is a poor attempt at disguising her expectations. She will be keen to eclipse Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles at the earliest opportunity. The American will also draw inspiration from the exploits of her elder sister, Venus, who has rolled back the years to storm into a first Australian Open semi-final since 2003. Serena won that tournament in 2003- the first of her six Australian Open titles- and a seventh crown in Melbourne will take her to second on the all-time list, four behind Margaret Court’s 11. The younger Williams, as always, is relishing the challenge.
Johanna Konta (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
“I love pressure. I feel like I deal well with pressure. I love the game, I love being out here,” she said ahead of the game.
Konta has been the player of the season so far. She opened her year with a semi-final run in Shenzhen, where she lost, somewhat surprisingly, to Ukrainian, Kateryna Kozlova, but she has not tasted defeat since then. She sauntered to the title in Sydney, dismantling Agnieszka Radwanska in the final, and has powered her way to a second consecutive Australian Open quarter final.
If she beats Williams, it will be back-to-back Melbourne semi-finals for the brilliant Brit.
Konta has not only won nine straight games; she has won them without dropping a set. She has simply forgotten how to lose. The 25-year-old dispatched the tricky Kirsten Flipkens in her opening round in Melbourne, before overpowering the dangerous Naomi Osaka in the second round. Konta took Caroline Wozniacki to the cleaners in the third round, making mockery of what had been built up as a potentially tight contest, and she was equally ruthless in her demolition of Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round. She has been relentless in her Melbourne raid.
One thing that may slow her down though, is a meeting with one of the greatest players of all time.
This may be the first meeting between Serena and Konta, but the 22-time Grand Slam champion has been doing her homework, and knows what exactly to expect on Wednesday.
“I have watched her game a lot. She's been doing really, really well," she said.
"She has a very attacking game. I know her game pretty well. I look forward to it... Obviously I'm here to win. Hopefully I can play better, I can only go better.”
She will certainly have to play a lot better than she did in her previous round against Strycova to take down Konta, but the American is the mistress of elevating her game for the big stage. Konta will surely not be intimidated by the prospects of stepping onto the court against an icon like Serena Williams, and the British number one has declared her readiness for the battle ahead.
"I've played quite a few Grand Slam champions and former world number ones, so I've prepared myself as much as possible for a competitor like Serena."