Johanna Konta tops Venus Williams for first WTA singles crown

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Monday, July 25, 2016

STANFORD, Calif. -- As Johanna Konta pounded the ball from every spot on the court Sunday and rarely missed, there were moments Venus Williams could do little more than applaud her opponent's stellar day as winners whipped down the line and drop shots fell perfectly.

With a crowd of 2,268 largely rooting for the American icon Williams, Konta regularly reminded herself to breathe to keep her mind on the match and not her daunting task.

The hard-hitting Konta outslugged top-seeded Williams to capture her first career singles title at last while playing for her first championship, winning the Bank of the West Classic 7-5, 5-7, 6-2.

"It's actually quite an incredibly humbling experience. It's a great validation of the hard work you've been putting in and it's a great motivator on the things you want to keep getting better at," she said. "I played her twice previously. I knew going into it I was going to be playing against a magnitude of experience. Venus Williams doesn't need an introduction."

Her serve and return games equally solid on another unseasonably hot day at Stanford, Konta held on in the third set after squandering a 4-1 lead in the second to open the door for Williams to come back.

When Williams netted her forehand return on the third match point, Konta dropped her racket to the ground and covered her face in triumph before heading to the net for a handshake. After receiving her trophy and addressing Williams directly with a thoughtful compliment of the 36-year-old star's grace and game, Konta posed for a round of photos that this time will be all the more special.

"She played at such a high level today," Williams said. "She saved her best tennis for the final, which is what you want to do."

Konta is having a blast being part of British tennis right now, everyone "riding high after Wimbledon" with Andy Murray winning at home.

"Yeah, long live the Queen, guys," she said with a big grin.

Over the 2-hour, 18-minute match, the third-seeded Konta figured out Williams' big serve for the second time this year, standing some 10 feet behind the baseline to return it and generating pace from Williams' regular serves of well higher than 100 mph.

The 25-year-old Konta also stunned Williams with the straight-set victory in the first round at this year's Australian Open. Coming into Sunday's match, Konta considered her return game a key to whether she would win.

"She plays really well against me, so maybe she comes out and doesn't feel any pressure and just swings for it," Williams said. "I tried to stay in there and fight. ... What can I say but give her credit."

Konta became the fourth-oldest first-time titlist this year. A steady serve helped carry Konta to Sunday's final. She nailed 11 aces and moved Williams all over the court with an array of powerful groundstrokes and timely drop shots.

Konta, headed to the Olympics next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, also was the first British woman to reach the final at Stanford since Virginia Wade's runner-up finish in 1981.

Williams was seeking her third tournament win at Stanford and denied career singles championship No. 50 while playing for her 80th title. At 49 singles tournament wins, she remains second among active players only behind younger sister Serena's 71.

"Of course I wanted to win, but I imagine with any luck I'll have more chances to get another title," she said.

Williams is projected to move up to No. 6 in the next rankings. She will play in Montreal this coming week before the Rio Olympics next month.

"See you all in Rio," she told the crowd before exiting the stadium.