Melbourne - World number nine Johanna Konta said she was
taking it strictly one step at a time despite sweeping past Kirsten Flipkens to
underline her Australian Open credentials on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Briton ground down her Belgian opponent 7-5,
6-2 in stifling conditions and will play Japan's Naomi Osaka in the second
round after she beat Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum.
A fan favourite in Australia, courtesy of being born in
Sydney, Konta has blossomed over the past two years, crediting a new mental attitude
and more maturity.
It helped her last year become the first British woman to
reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1983 in an eye-catching performance at
Melbourne Park, where she was making her debut.
Konta reached this month's Shenzhen Open semi-finals, before
beating world number three Agnieszka Radwanska to win last week's Sydney
International. But she said her early-season form meant little at the opening
Grand Slam of the year.
"I'm always aware how you do the week before is no
reflection of how you're going to do the week after," she said after
"I really try to take each on its own merit, and I'm
very happy with the level I was able to produce last week and the number of
matches and how I was able to come through each one.
"But this tournament is a new challenge, and it comes
with completely different obstacles. So I'm happy to have just given myself one
more chance to play another one here."
She carried her recent form into her showdown with Flipkens,
ranked 70, on Margaret Court Arena.
The Belgian served strongly but Konta got her eye in to keep
the returns in court and started to dominate from the baseline, forcing a
forehand error to get a break for a 4-3 lead.
But Flipkens, in her ninth Australian Open to Konta's second,
saved set points before breaking in a gripping 10th game to level the set at
Undeterred, Konta broke straight back then held serve to
finally take the set in a gruelling 51 minutes under hot sun.
Named the WTA's most improved player for 2016, she came out
strongly in the second set and broke in the fifth game as Flipkens ultimately
"It was incredibly tricky. She has the kind of game
that can trouble any player," said Konta.
"I tried to play myself into the match and I'm happy to
be through. A lot has happened in the last year and I'm just enjoying playing
and trying to get better every day."