By Ros Satar
- Johanna Konta  def. Monica Niculescu  6-2 6-2
- Faces Victoria Azarenka  – H2H: Konta leads 1-0
- Simona Halep  def. Heather Watson [WC] 6-3 6-4
MIAMI, USA – Johanna Konta continues to progress with a strong win over Monica Niculescu, earning a quarter-final berth against Victoria Azarenka, while Heather Watson bows out with her best Miami run.
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Johanna Konta  def. Monica Niculescu  6-2 6-2
In stark contrast to her sluggish start against Elena Vesnina in her previous match, Konta came roaring out of the blocks against Niculescu as she sped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening set, neutralising the Romanian’s unique style of play.
The slice and dice action works best when Niculescu is relaxed, and she was anything but as she struggled to move to Konta’s careful ball placement, as the British No. 1 looked very sharp.
Wrapping up the first set rapidly, she got a dream start in the second set this time racing out to a 5-0 lead, but a minor blip in concentration saw her drop the next two games, giving Niculescu just a glimmer of hope, before serving out the match.
Johanna Konta  v Victoria Azarenka  – H2H: Konta leads 1-0
Now before we call get terribly carried away with a winning head to head, her win over Azarenka in Wuhan last year came via a retirement at the start of the second set when she was still struggling to get back from injury fully.
That being said, Konta should take some comfort that she had weathered a tight set against the Belarusian at a time when she was still on the rise confidence wise.
She has had some good wins, and a tough battle, and her confidence at coming back in the face of adversity continues to improve, but if we learned anything from the R16 match between Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza, she can also dig deep, coming out the winner from a taut first set tie=break.
That being said, she can also give into nerves of her own – we saw it in the Indian Wells final as she let Serena Williams fractionally back into the second set. She had two match points against the Spaniard and could not take them, but once more took the initiative in the tie-break.
The champion’s mentality is returning to her, as she continues her own rise back up the rankings. Azarenka is looking to do the Indian Wells/Miami double, and the aggressive counterpuncher has a lot of confidence right now.
Konta will look to club away with her serve and forehand, and she was impressive coming forward against Romanian. She will need to be flexible – Azarenka has been a handy doubles player as well, so will more than happy to try and cut her off at the net.
Prediction: Azarenka in three sets.
Simona Halep  def. Heather Watson [WC] 6-3 6-4
Maybe the long draw out battle for her first win over Yanina Wickmayer, and doubles on one of the fiercest days of heat in Miami took its toll on the British No. 2 as Watson bowed out to fifth seed Halep in straight sets.
It looked like a promising start for Watson, leading the former World No. 2 3-1 before Halep settled her own nerves to reel off five games on the spin to take the first set. Halep took the initiative in the second set and despite Watson breaking straight back, she could not make it stick, with Halep breaking once more to take the lead.
Watson mustered enough to force Halep to serve it out, but it had looked a tired match – for both players, with Halep often looking very frustrated with her game, while Watson acknowledged in a coaching timeout that she was maybe pushing her shots just too much.
Speaking to the BBC after the match, Watson said: “I felt fine going into this match but then tweaked it again and became overly aggressive going for stuff you shouldn’t usually go for playing against Halep.
“I ended up paying the price, missed a few too many and was pretty inconsistent.”
It has been a good hard court spring for Watson, with her third WTA title coming in Monterrey, and this has been her best performance in Miami. She looks set to move back up the rankings, to No. 54 when the new rankings come out next Monday.
Play resumes at the Miami Open from 11am (4pm BST).
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