Not Her Best Surface, Konjuh Thriving On Clay

Ana Konjuh (photo: @serbialadiesopen/Instagram)

BELGRADE/WASHINGTON, May 20, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Clay may be Ana Konjuh‘s least favorite surface, but the Croatian is thriving on it this week at the Serbia Ladies Open in Belgrade. She’s gone from qualifying draw to the last eight in the main draw in a matter of days. Along the way, she’s taken the scenic route by going the distance in her first three wins.

On Wednesday afternoon, the 188th-ranked Konjuh rolled to her fourth straight win on the red dirt at the Novak Tennis Center with a 6-3, 6-4 upset of No. 2 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan to reach Thursday’s quarterfinal round against No. 42 Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, seeded fifth. Konjuh’s victory over the 35th-ranked Putintseva was her first straight-set win in the Serbian capital city.

The win improved Konjuh’s win-loss record in all competitions this year to 18-9 and her triumph over Putintseva was her fourth over a seeded player this season as well as her fourth Top 50 victory – and it advanced her to her second clay-court quarterfinal this spring. Konjuh’s provisional ranking improved after the victory to No. 167, still a way to go to equal her career-best No. 20, which she achieved in 2017 before undergoing a series of four surgeries on her right elbow, the most recent an ulnar ligament reconstruction.

However, when one considers she began the year ranked in the 500s, to be inside the Top 200 in May is quite an achievement. Konjuh is healthy, again, and starting to show the form that saw her become a US Open quarterfinalist as a teenager.

“I just keep moving forward,” Konjuh told Tennis TourTalk earlier this week in Belgrade. “I hope to get back into the Top 100 as soon as possible, taking it step by step.”

Before Wednesday’s match, Konjuh told Tennis TourTalk that she thought the key to beating Putintseva was to be patient and put the ball in the court. As it happened, Konjuh hit three aces and 30 winners and broke Putintseva’s serve six times in nine tries. The Kazakh committed 20 unforced errors and was outpointed 65-49 by Konjuh.

Afterward, during a virtual interview with the 23-year-old native of Dubrovnik, Konjuh spoke about the victory and what beating her fourth-seeded opponent this year means for her confidence.

“Yulia is a great player, a great fighter on the court who never gives up,” Konjuh said. “I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be easy, that she was going to hit back a lot of balls. I had a pretty good vision of what I had to do on the court, to be offensive but also to be patient.

“It was really muddy today, so the balls were really flying. I was really going for my serves. Overall, I’m really happy. My confidence is growing.”

As to why Konjuh is doing so well on clay – especially this week – she explained: “I mean, I’m European, so we basically grew up on clay. It’s not like I don’t have enough time on clay – I do. It’s just that other surfaces suit more my style. I prefer grass and hard courts, which is a little bit faster. Points on clay take longer, but I’m learning to be smarter.

“Overall, I’m happy where I’m at right now. If it continues like this, I’ll get to where I want to be.”