British #1 Johanna Konta, who last year became the first British woman to reach the last four at Wimbledon since Virginia Wade, continues her quest to claim the title at the All England Club against Dominika Cibulkova. Since that run Konta has struggled, falling out of the top ten to her current position of 24th in the world. Cibulkova, a former Australian Open finalist and Tour Finals champion has her fair share of experience of struggles with form. But who will reach the third round?
Konta and Cibulkova have clashed three times on Tour so far in their careers in a rivalry that began in Hobart two years ago in the lead up to the Australian Open. Cibulkova won that one, defeating Konta in the first round 7-6 7-5 in a match that Konta may feel could easily have gone her way. It did when they met again in 2016, in Stanford, where Konta won a semifinal clash 6-4 6-2. She beat Cibulkova again last year in Cincinnati in the third round 6-3 6-4 in what was their most recent meeting.
Path to the second round
Konta picked up some much-needed match wins by reaching the final in Nottingham, where she lost a tight match to Ashleigh Barty. However, her form faltered again with early exits in Birmingham and Nottingham and she looked somewhat short of confidence in her first match of the Championships where she faced Russia’s Natalia Vikhlyantseva. Konta managed to get the win, but was laboured in doing so and spurned four match points in a row in a second set tiebreak before winning 7-5 7-6.
Cibulkova’s French Open ended in a first round defeat to Julia Goerges and she also lost first time out at the Birmingham Classic. But she did pick up a win at Devonshire Park, beating Wozniacki’s Wimbledon conqueror Ekaterina Makarova in the first round before losing to Angelique Kerber. At the All England Club the Slovakian faced off with France’s Alize Cornet in the first round. After winning a tight first set Cibulkova ran away with the match to win 7-6 6-1.
How do they match up?
Konta’s strengths are her forehand and serve. Though far from the equal of the likes of the Williams sisters when stepping to the line, the Briton has a powerful first serve and managed to fire six aces past Vikhlyantseva in the first round, making a solid 66% of her first serves. Konta will look to her forehand to break through Cibulkova’s defences off the ground. Her backhand, however, is somewhat lacking as an attacking weapon.
The diminutive Cibulkova can generate a surprising amount of power despite standing just 5’3” tall. Like Konta her best shot is her forehand although she generally hits it with more topspin than the Briton. Her backhand is also a reasonably effective shot and she moves well, but her serve can let her down at times, particularly due to errant ball tosses. With both women likely to be fairly aggressive from the outset, this should be a match that produces a fair number of winners and unforced errors alike.
Konta did not look anything like the player she was this time last year in her victory over Vikhlyantseva. The Briton carved out leads only to throw them away. Vikhlyantseva, a 21-year-old ranked outside the top 100 did not have the quality or experience to punish her. Cibulkova, ranked seventy places higher than the Russian and just nine lower than Konta, will. If Konta can keep her focus she will have a chance of progressing, but recently that’s been beyond her. Cibulkova to win in three.