There was blood, sweat and tears as Johanna Konta’s brave run at her home town tournament came to an end at the semi-final stage on Friday evening.
Konta, who fell heavily and twisted her right ankle in the second set, lost in three tough sets 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 to Czech player Karolina Pliskova in 2hours 17 minutes on centre court.
Konta was aiming to become the first British player to contest the final at the AEGON international since Virginia Wade in 1976.
The British No.1 had already beaten two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in three sets on the Wednesday but, due to rain on Thursday, was forced to play her quarter final against Ekaterina Makarova on Friday morning.
The 25-year-old beat Makarova 7-6, 6-4 but two tough matches, a heavy fall and the skill of Pliskova combined to prove too much for the Eastbourne player.
Konta, who reached the quarter-finals at Devonshire Park last year, put on a brave face after the defeat. “I feel fine. The crying happened because of the shock of the fall. It was just a shock because of the way my leg twisted. I was limping straight after because the way the fall happened I couldn’t quite get up because my body spasm up a bit. But it is fine, I will be fine for Wimbledon.
Konta added, “To play two matches like that is not ideal but it was the challenge I was faced with. My opponent also played earlier today so we were both in the same boat.
“I am happy with the week. It was pretty spectacular in a way. I played a bunch of really good matches against really good players. Overall it has been a very happy and positive week.”
The first set, as you would expect from the evenly matched world No. 17 and 18, was as tight as they come.
Konta, full of vigour from the beginning, scurried around the court at speed while the tall Pliskova’s long stride and unhurried movement made for an intriguing contrast in style.
Konta, 25, had never before beaten the Czech in four previous meetings but each time the matches were closely fought duels, particularly the two on grass that both went to three sets.
Pliskova’s serve is formidable and her accurate ground strokes pinged off her racket as clean as a whistle. But Konta, buoyed by her home crowd packed into centre court, was playing great tennis of her own. Her serve was solid and on numerous occasions Konta’s passing shots fizzed beyond her opponent on both flanks. Both players held their serve in the first set without too many issues and a tie break was required to decide the first.
Konta raced to a 4-1 then 5-2 lead but predictably with these two it was never going to be that easy.
Pliskova reeled off three consecutive points to level at 5-5 but Konta remained composed and closed out the tie break 7-5.
The standard remained high at the start of the second and it was Pliskova who forced and converted the first break of the contest at 2-1. Konta responded with possibly her best return game of the match as she brought up three break points. Pliskova saved one and as Konta scampered to retrieve on her forehand side she slipped and fell awkwardly to the floor and twisted her right ankle. She bravely hauled herself up but two booming aces from Pliskova wrestled back the momentum and Konta’s chance passed.
Konta, in pain and in tears, called for her coach at the changeover as did Pliskova. The coaches were interrupted by a bizarre incident when screams went around centre court as a wheelchair user at courtside was hit by another wheelchair.
The changeover was lengthy and when play resumed, hindered by injury, the spring had disappeared from Konta’s step. Pliskova showed little mercy and advanced to a 4-1 lead. Konta remained determined and battled gamely to bring break points in Pliskova’s final service game but both where saved by the Czech and she closed out the game 6-3.
Konta, a break down in the third and visibly running low on energy, refused to threw in the towel. At 4-3 down she launched her final assault and pushed Pliskova to five deuces on her serve but the 10th seed, not one to get flustered, held firm. She won the game and that finally snapped Konta’s brave resolve and Pliskova broke Konta’s final service game to claim the third set 6-3 and advanced to the final where she will face Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday.
Pliskova said, “She (Konta) is tough. She doesn’t give you much, she’s serving pretty well so it’s tough. The first set was very close. She was more aggressive in the end of the first set so she deserved to win the first set. I started to play better from the baseline and it’s a good sign for me to be winning matches on grass.”