By Ros Satar
- Johanna Konta  def. Timea Babos 7-5 6-2
- Faces  Karolina Pliskova for the third time this year
- Yet to get a win over the US Open finalist
BEIJING, CHINA – Johanna Konta set up another clash with the in-form Karolina Pliskova, overcoming a slow start against Timea Babos to advance at the China Open.
Despite leaving the Brit standing in the early exchanges, from the outset Babos seemed tense, barking for the balls to be at one side in just the first game, whereas Konta as always just seemed to focus on the job in hand. What was pleasing to note was some much improved pickups from Konta – in the early part of the hard court summer these had a tendency to be an ineffectual bunt over the net, but knowing she was up a strong doubles player, they were on point.
However after a slow start, Konta started to work her way in to the match, breaking to get things back on serve at *3-4. Konta continued to be rewarded by her patience as Babos started to unravel, with Konta breaking for the chance to serve for the first set, and with some solid serving, nipped the first set to love.
The start of the second set was more firmly in the Briton’s grasp, as she broke early for a 2-0 lead, and was within reach of starting as well as Babos had in the first set, but the Hungarian did well to come back from 15-40 down to stay in contention. But such a fight was few and far between as Konta efficiently kept the pressure on, and for such a tenacious player as Babos, she timidly gifted Konta another break with some lacklustre shot-making from the Hungarian, and Konta wasted no time in closing out a straight setter.
Konta v Karolina Pliskova  – H2H: Pliskova leads 5-0
For the rangy Czech, her closing stages of the US hard court summer was an aligning of the stars, first denying Angelique Kerber her first shot at the World No. 1 spot by winning the Cincinnati final, and then facing the German again in a great US Open final, as Kerber book-ended her year with her second Slam title.
But her start to her Asian campaign has been a little bumpy. She lost to qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Tokyo and was blown off the court in the Wuhan R16 by Dominika Cibulkova, on her way to the final. Even here in Beijing, she has had to come from a set down twice to fight her way to the third round, so the chance is there for Konta to try and get her first win over the Czech.
With three tour matches and two lower tier wins over the Brit, Pliskova will feel comfortable that her hefty serves and big ground-strokes will get her out of trouble, but with the exception of their first match in 2011 (Prerov $25K on clay) their matches have been a lot closer with Pliskova made to work over three sets to get the win.
The Czech has had to come from behind in all but one of those – at Indian Wells earlier this year she edged a competitive first set in the tie-break but fell away a little in the second set before winning the decider.
Konta will have to strike out in much the same way, being aggressive and putting consistent pressure on Pliskova from the start. Her movement against Babos impressed, and that is possibly the only way she can try and exert any pressure on the Czech. She knows her movement is improving but is still an area to work on so anything Konta can do to pull her out of position to come in for a sharp winner will be key.
Currently Konta lies 11th in the Road to Singapore, but along with Madison Keys tops the leader-board for the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai. She also has an International Level event in Hong Kong as her potential next tournament should she fall to Pliskova in a final attempt to hit the mark.
This is a tough ask for Konta, and Pliskova has just seemed to be the more consistent in their previous encounters. We could well expect another tough battle though.
Prediction: Pliskova in three sets.
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