Johanna Konta, the world #18, has got off the starting blocks at this year’s Aegon International, but it took a 108-minute tussle to fend off Lesia Tsurenko.
Konta, who next week will be seeded for the first time at Wimbledon, initially stuttering before outsmarting the Ukrainian 7-6(4) 6-1.
The British #1 was more inspired to fire on all cylinders at her adopted home event, especially having failed to impress at the other two English grass court tournaments – Nottingham’s Aegon Open and Birmingham’s Aegon Classic.
The Australian-born ace was scrambling around on Centre Court with relentless energy, but fluffed nine break points and was forced into what became a tense tiebreak. And she kept the momentum going after snatching the opening set, searing into a 5-0 lead before sealing her first success against Tsurenko having tasted defeat in their only other encounter three seasons ago.
Tsurenko, victorious in the morning 1st Round clash over in-form China’s Zheng Saisai, was not rattled against Konta and shared the came perilously close to breaking the Brit who someone wriggled out of danger.
With little to choose between the two players, the 11th game became a 13-minute scrap that went on favour of the Ukrainian.
The pressure was on Konta, serving to stay in the set, which she achieved much to the delight of the patriotic fans who cheered on their local hero. Konta’s incredible support seemed to lift the 25-year-old, cautious to start with to split the first four points before turning on the style to reel off the next four points.
But Konta allowed two set points to slip away before edging the set with a cross-court winner that once more resulted in unparalleled Centre Court support.
Fans had been through the mill for 68 heartfelt minutes, as had Konta.
Exhausted from this battle and having to live up to the high expectations as the British #1, Konta was given a tough opening game in the second set that lasted nine minutes after she denied her gritty opponent each time on five break points.
As hard as Tsurenko tried she couldn’t find the all important winning point to get back into the set, and was broken twice to trail 4-0.
The scoreline didn’t reflect the true closeness of the contest, but Konta used the comfortable lead to turn the screw.
Konta won the fifth game to love but Tsurenko managed to open her account for the set on her service game.
After Konta collected the next game on her serve to edge closer to the win, the pressure was on the Ukrainian 27-year-old’s shoulder to prolong the match.
Tsurenko fluffed two break points on her serve and to add insult to injury gifted the match to Konta with an unforced error in an enthralling 40-minute set.
Konta explained: “This is my home tournament, which definitely gives me that extra feeling of comfort because I can pop in my car and go home.”
“It was an extremely tough battle, and I’m really grateful to have such a high quality match in my first round.”
“I’m really happy to play these matches because these are the kind of situations that you want to compete in.”
Next up is a tough task against two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, who was solid in her opening match at Devonshire Park.
Konta added about her opponent: “It’s one of her favourite surfaces, I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and hopefully be a good match.