By Ros Satar

  • Johanna Konta v Sloane Stephens [3]
  • First meeting
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Perhaps surprising that this pair have not met before, as British No. 1 Johanna Konta faces former US Open champion Sloane Stephens at the Brisbane International.

 

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Johanna Konta v Sloane Stephens [3] | First Meeting

It was a very different year for Sloane Stephens, coming in as a maiden Slam champion, and Johanna Konta, defending a strong first half of the year and trying to make up ground after tumbling back down the rankings.

For Stephens, another Slam final in 2018 and reaching the finals at the season-ending finale in Singapore showed her US Open win was not a fluke, and was standing up to be counted in 2018.

A new year, certainly a new coach for Konta as she teamed up with Stan Wawrinka’s former coach Dimitri Zavialoff at the end of last year, while Stephens is on a coaching break from Kamau Murray who guided her to the US Open title and Roland Garros final.

Stephens’ devil-may-care attitude belies a real desire for results, and she will want to start the year solidly without the charismatic Murray, while Konta has been talking up her preparations this year under the tutelage of the less well known Zavialoff, when compared to her time with Wim Fissette and Michael Joyce’s other (more) famous previous charges.

Talking to BBC Sport, Konta said: “He is teaching me to be quite self-sufficient on court. It is much more of a partnership than I have had in previous coaching relationships.”

“I think last season I didn’t have many quarter-final or semi-final opportunities so getting to the end of a tournament was definitely a good feeling to have in the last tournament of the year,” she said.

“We’ve been in this place many times, and it doesn’t always guarantee that it kicks off well, but I definitely feel I’ve had a very strong pre-season so that has given me a good chance to have a good overall 2019.”

Sloane Stephens in the semi-final of the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore

Sloane Stephens in the semi-final of the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

It will be a stern test for the new partnership right out of the gates facing Stephens. The American all-court player has an enviable athleticism around the court, and is generally very steady off the ground, handy at the net and makes her court coverage look effortless.

What Konta needs is to tap into that gritty aggressiveness that took her to the 2016 Australian Open final. She often had to come from behind and the wins may not have been the prettiest but honestly, who cares when there is a ‘W’ in the column?

It is noticeable she refers to her relationship with Zavialoff as much more of a partnership – and that she is focussing on being more self-sufficient – what seemed to be lacking in the latter half of 2017 and 2018 was the ability to think her way through adversity – often she would start the matches well but at the first sign of resistance from the other side of the net, her focus and resolve seemed to go walkabout.

Stephens’ is a tough ask, but it would be good to see Konta grit it out over the distance.

Prediction: Stephens in three sets.

 

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How to Watch/Follow the Brisbane International

TV BT Sport 1 (Subscription required)
Streaming WTATV.com (Subscription required)
LiveScore http://bit.ly/BritwatchTennisLS

 

Stephens & Konta are scheduled on Pat Rafter Arena at 11am (1am GMT)

 

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