Konta overcomes blip to get past Keys in Brisbane

SHENZHEN: Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania at the Shenzhen Open tennis tournament in Shenzhen, in China’s southern Guangdong province yesterday. — AFP

SHENZHEN: World number one Simona Halep swatted aside American Nicole Gibbs while Maria Sharapova was flawless in her straight sets victory over Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu in the opening round of the Shenzhen Open yesterday.
Halep, who sealed a 6-4 6-1 victory, struck three aces and fired 12 winners and was at her aggressive best to set up a second round clash with China’s Duan Yingying who defeated Evgeniya Rodina 6-2 7-5.

“It’s always nice to play here in Shenzhen,” said Halep, who captured the Shenzhen Open title in 2015. “It’s my first victory this year as number one in the world, so I’m happy and enjoying the time.” Five-times major winner Sharapova hit 18 winners and needed an hour and 22 minutes to despatch the seasoned Buzarnescu 6-3 6-0 for a winning start to the year.
“Every match gets tougher and as a competitor and someone who tries to be realistic, I like to only look ahead to the next opponent,” Sharapova said after the match. The Russian next faces 2017 runner-up Alison Riske, who upset China’s fifth seed Wang Qiang on Sunday.

“She beat a crowd favourite yesterday, so I know I have a tough match ahead, but I just want to keep playing better, and keep improving no matter who is across the net.”
Unseeded Danka Kovinic, ranked 123 in the world, stunned Greek seventh-seeded Maria Sakkari 4-6 6-2 6-3. Local hope Zhang Shuai powered past Russia’s Anna Blinkova 6-3 6-4 and was joined in the next round by Timea Babos who beat China’s Wang Xiyu 6-1 6-1.

Meanwhile, Johanna Konta made a shaky start to the new season before battling past US Open finalist Madison Keys and into the second round of the Brisbane International yesterday.

Konta, who prevailed 4-6 6-4 6-3, needed two hours and eight minutes to quell the challenge of her American opponent as her usually reliable serve sputtered early on before eventually coming to her rescue at the Pat Rafter Arena.
“This was my first match in quite a while, so I’m really happy to have had such a competitive match against such a great player,” Konta said.

“It was a really tough first round for both of us. Madison is an incredibly good player, so I feel very lucky that I got to play her so early on and really have a good match.”

World number 19 Keys missed eight opportunities to break Konta’s serve before she finally succeeded while up 5-4 to take the first set with a powerful forehand drive.

Konta appeared to calm her serve and nerve in the second set, fighting back with an early break to go up 3-2. The world number nine then held on to level the match at one set apiece.

The Briton battled her way to a 2-0 lead in the decider as Keys began to tire and finished the match with another break to set up a clash with Ajla Tomljanovic in the next round.

Mischa Zverev powered past Australian qualifier John-Patrick Smith 6-4 7-5 to enter the second round of the Brisbane International yesterday. Eighth seed Zverev fired four aces in the match and converted five out of six break points to come through in an hour and 28 minutes. The German will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Argentine Federico Delbonis and American Michael Mmoh.

Earlier, local hope Matthew Ebden dumped out Frances Tiafoe with a 6-3 6-2 victory that set up an all-Australian second round clash with the big-serving Nick Kyrgios. “Nick has obviously got a great serve,” Ebden said, looking ahead to tomorrow’s match.

“That’s one of his biggest weapons that carried him through well over the past few years, with the upsets and good results that he’s had. He’s obviously good around the court. He moves well for a big guy. “Last year I played (Ivo) Karlovic, I played (John) Isner, these kind of guys. So I wouldn’t say Nick’s serve is maybe as big or as tall as those guys’, but he’s obviously very accurate and uses it well.”

Ryan Harrison downed Leonardo Mayer 6-4 3-6 6-2 while fellow American Jared Donaldson eased past Jordan Thompson 6-2 6-4. Horacio Zeballos needed 72 minutes to beat Ernesto Escobedo 6-3 6-4 and meets Alexandr Dolgopolov next.
Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich came from behind to upset sixth seed Kristina Mladenovic 1-6 6-3 7-5 while Elina Svitolina beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-4. Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko then stunned eighth seed Ashleigh Barty 6-3 6-2.

Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova withdrew from the event with a viral illness. The 27-year-old Czech was unable to take the court against Estonian Anett Kontaveit and was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Heather Watson. – Agencies