PARIS (Reuters) - Unseeded Czech Marketa Vondrousova became the first teenager to reach a Grand Slam final for 10 years as she outsmarted Johanna Konta 7-5 7-6(2) at the French Open on Friday.
The 19-year-old left-hander lost the first 10 points of the match on a rainy Court Simonne Mathieu, but had more guile than her bigger-hitting opponent in testing conditions.
She will take on Australia’s Ashleigh Barty in Saturday’s final, bidding to become the first Czech woman to win the French Open since Hana Mandlikova, also 19, won in 1981.
Eighth seed Barty prevented an all-teenager final by beating 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova in three sets.
Caroline Wozniacki was the last teenager to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open while Ana Ivanovic was the last to reach the Roland Garros final losing to Justine Henin in 2007.
Vondrousova might be the latest off the Czech tennis production line but she is not from the same mould as the likes of hard-hitters such as Petra Kvitova or Karolina Pliskova.
Her game is full of surprises and it was appropriate she finished off Konta with her favorite drop shot.
“It’s amazing. I never imagined this. It’s the best week of my life so far,” said Vondrousova, who moved alone to Prague from the small western town of Sokolov as a 15-year-old.
Konta, who has lost all three of her Grand Slam semi-finals, will rue missed opportunities, but praised her wily opponent.
“She’s consistently there asking questions, and I think that’s a real gift of hers,” she said.
Vondrousova has won more matches than any player on the WTA Tour since the Australian Open and has swept through to the final in Paris without conceding a set.
Her compatriot Lucie Safarova was the last woman player to achieve that, in 2015, when Vondrousova won the junior doubles final before rushing over to watch her lose to Serena Williams.
Fast-forward four years and she is on the cusp of joining the list of illustrious Czech Grand Slam champions.
Things did not look good when she opened with two double-faults and lost the opening 10 points in a flash on a half-empty court, its atmosphere flat as a result of a weather-enforced move to the complex’s third showcourt.
Konta, bidding to become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam final since 1977, will be kicking herself.
The 28-year-old, who had never won a round at Roland Garros before this year, had three set points when she led 5-3 in the opener, but on the first lashed an easy volley well over the baseline with the court at her mercy.
From that point on, Vondrousova began to use her splendid array of drop shots, lobs and superb anticipation to take charge, helped by regular errors off the Konta racquet.
She broke the Konta serve to level at 5-5 and then held with an exquisite drop shot and lob-volley combination.
Vondrousova claimed the first set with a defensive lob that landed plumb on the baseline.
The Czech, who has a tattoo reading “no rain no flowers” — an appropriate message considering the conditions and the court’s setting, surrounded by greenhouses — trailed 5-3 in the second set - but again Konta’s game disintegrated.
Serving for the set, she lost a volleying exchange at 15-30 and then double-faulted at 30-40.
Konta bashed away a forehand winner to take the set into a tiebreak but Vondrousova showed remarkable calm to move 6-2 ahead and then clinch victory by conjuring another dropshot to leave her opponent stranded on the baseline.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Christian Radnedge