Navratilova-Evert, Borg-McEnroe, Navratilova-Graf, Hingis-Williams, Lendl-McEnroe, and Federer-Nadal are several “Hall of Fame” examples of tennis contrasts. Those and a few other matchups provided Hall of Fame players and supreme differences in playing styles.
The coming Roland Garros semifinal between Jo Konta and Marketa Vondrousova might not feature Hall of Fame-level players (though that could change if either woman picks up a few majors), but the wonderful contrast in styles is evident, which is a big part of why this matchup is so compelling.
“Where is the variety on the WTA Tour?” People have asked that question for years, and it is now clear that variety is an increasingly common aspect of women’s tennis. Ashleigh Barty offers it. Anastasija Sevastova — whom Vondrousova routed in the fourth round — offers it. Petra Martic, whom Vondrousova defeated in a close and textured quarterfinal with layered all-court chessboard rallies, also brings variety to the table.
The depth of the WTA is quality depth, and it is increasingly shedding the identity of “cookie-cutter depth.” Depth and variety are clear friends. Vondrousova is proof positive of that. The way she steered points to her advantage in the second set of the Martic quarterfinal was hugely impressive. The 19-year-old has a tremendous feel for the geometry of the court, mixing her lefty topspin with hard drives and perfectly calibrated offensive lobs Martina Hingis would be proud of.
The ability to not only hit every kind of shot well, but know precisely how to align those shots in winning patterns, has marked Ash Barty’s rise on tour this year. Vondrousova certainly showed that same capacity against Martic. As a result, she stands two wins away from doing what 19-year-old-turned-20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko did two years ago at Roland Garros: winning a first major title at a very early age, coming from relative obscurity to rocket to the forefront of the global tennis scene.
Contrast Vondrousova’s vexing and immensely lethal variety with the first-strike tennis of her opponent, Jo Konta.
It was stunning but unmistakable: Jo Konta defused Sloane Stephens’ defense in Tuesday’s quarterfinal. Stephens’ court coverage, movement and footwork are all first-rate, but Konta’s pinpoint serving, lightning-fast pace, and precise placement to the corners and lines blew Stephens off the court and out of Roland Garros. Konta’s offense bullied Stephens’ defense. She got on top of the match, stayed on top of the match, and never let go. It was a serving clinic and a great demonstration of 1-2 tennis, with the serve-forehand combo winning lots of points; a high percentage of first-serve points; and many short rallies.
Much as a basketball team tries to rush the ball down the court before the opponent’s defense can get set — playing a “fast-break” style in order to avoid a slow, halfcourt-style game — Konta played fast-break tennis before Stephens could get set. It was a masterpiece in bullet-train tennis, expressly awesome in its expression of what an express-service subway might look like.
It was an adrenaline rush for Konta to play that well… but it was also a rush in a more practical sense: Konta took away time and opportunity from Stephens. She took the racquet out of Sloane’s hands.
Vondrousova will want textured 25-shot rallies in which Konta is scrambling all over the court. Konta will try to smother Vondrousova with her serve and 1-2 tennis, as she displayed against Stephens.
Get ready for the contrast in styles. Two women will play for their first major final, and you should soon know which style of play will have the final say.