It was not until 5.34pm on Wednesday, nine hours after arriving here, that Johanna Konta finally made it out of the locker room and on to the Grandstand stadium court for her second-round match against Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan. The small victory was short-lived.
After a day of showers, umbrellas immediately flew up again, players were quickly ushered off the court and play for the entire day on US Open’s outside courts was cancelled.
These are the types of curveballs that players must deal with to advance and succeed through two weeks of a major. Her cherished routines broken, Konta demonstrated her adaptability as she returned on Thursday and pummelled Gasparyan 6-1, 6-0 in 54 minutes, producing one of her best performances of the year.
“It was just a lot of hanging around and a lot of Scrabble,” said Konta, laughing. “Then I warmed up again and then we went out on court and then we walked on and then it started to rain and then we came off, and then were cancelled.”
After losing the opening game of the match, Konta won 12 successive games and she will face the 33rd seed, Zhang Shuai, in the third round of the US Open.
Gasparyan is part of a dying breed of female players who still employ a one-handed backhand and the opening game suggested the 24-year-old could be a nuisance. But as onlookers admired its artistry, Konta saw the backhand only as a weakness and she set about breaking it down.
Unflinching aggression has always been Konta’s calling card but she has frequently put her 2019 resurgence down to a new willingness to play with more variety and to adapt her tactics to specific opponents.
As she neared victory, Konta broke for 6-1, 4-0 by drawing the Russian into the net with a low backhand slice, then finished the point with a confident backhand volley.
“I did a decent job in recognising quite early on the way I wanted to play,” said Konta. “I just needed a bit of time to adapt to her ball. She was playing quite flat … but I had the right idea in the way I was trying to work the points.”
Konta finished with 24 winners and 12 unforced errors and surely the feeling that another deep grand slam run could be on the cards. “I feel like I’m growing and improving with each tournament I’m playing,” she said, smiling. “I’m looking to do the same here.”
Andrea Petkovic produced the biggest upset so far as she defeated the sixth seed, Petra Kvitova, 6-4, 6-4 on Louis Armstrong Stadium to move into the third round.
If Konta is the archetype of the rigid tunnel vision that players are often taught to emulate, focusing only on their routines, their processes and nothing else, Petkovic is her polar opposite.
The German burst on to the tour in 2011, dancing after her many victories and oozing charisma as she rose to the top 10. Away from the court, Petkovic moonlights as a journalist and the last time she spent an extended stay in New York, she sequestered herself in the town of Woodstock during the off-season to spend weeks working on her memoirs.
“I’m used to [playing] tennis to sweat and have adrenaline and all these things,” she said.
“In writing, you just feel everything inside you and it hurts your soul and your heart. I didn’t like the feeling, but then, it’s a really nice outcome and nice feeling. I’m very excited about that, that I have something on the side that helps me to cope with the tennis life.”
Naomi Osaka, the top seed and defending champion, moved on without the visible nerves of her first-round match, recovering from a break down in the second set to defeat Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4. Watching the new star of women’s tennis from the players’ box were her fellow Nike endorsees, Kobe Bryant and Colin Kaepernick.
Later, the US qualifier Taylor Townsend created one of the big upsets of the tournament so far, beating the Wimbledon champion and fourth seed Simona Halep 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).