WIMBLEDON - British No. 1 Johanna Konta's Wimbledon charge came to a disappointing end in Round 2 as she fell in straight sets to Dominika Cibulkova on Centre Court.
Konta, seeded 22nd, bowed out in just an hour and 19 minutes to Cibulkova (3-6, 4-6), as she struggled to find her range and rhythm against the sprightly and ever-present Slovakian. But despite a poor return, having reached the semifinal last year, Konta was adamant she has not "regressed", and dodged any parallels with her 2017 form, saying she does not live in the past.
"This year, I actually feel like I'm heading in the direction I want to be heading in," Konta said. "I think I'm improving. I think sooner or later those results will come. If they don't, they don't. But I'm happy with where I am in my career and with the work I'm doing."
Cibulkova was outstanding, patrolling the baseline and dictated the tempo. She missed out on a seeding spot due to Serena Williams' late addition to the 32, but played with the form and confidence of a former Grand Slam finalist. Konta did battle hard.
There was a potential turning point in the second set as Konta saved four match points on her own serve to make it 4-5, needing a break of serve to maintain her Wimbledon status. But Cibulkova served out to love to tee up a Round 3 match up with Elise Mertens.
Prior to Wimbledon, Konta was quietly confident about her form, hoping for a repeat or better of last year's semifinal spot, but also spoke of how she treats the opening week of the championship just the same as any other. After struggling through the Round 1 tie with Natalia Vikhlyantseva, she spoke of her pride at how she regrouped, and fought to the last point. Set points saved, she felt gave her the springboard momentum to target that second week, and was adamant she had "control" over how she was able to compete.
The theme after her defeat to Cibulkova was ignoring outside expectation, and focusing on her own form and she is adamant her form is on the upward trajectory despite this early exit.
"I'm here to satisfy my own expectations, and I'm very clear on where I am in my development, where I am with my level," Konta said. "I did the best that I could. I lost to a very good player today.
"I love playing here. I will love it next year. I will love it for however many more years I get to play."
It was an eerie atmosphere in Centre Court for the opening set. Huge swathes of the crowd had emptied out after Rafa Nadal's previous match, and encouragement for Konta was on a lower decibel than the treatment a Brit usually gets on Wimbledon's marquee ground.
She dodged any notion of this being a disappointment post-match - "I think they can be forgiven for not staying there all the way through" -- and as the court re-filled for the second set, there was a feeling of momentum behind Konta, the crowd getting behind her, cheering her booming aces and powerful forehands.
Though she showed signs of riding that wave of support, she was then broken in the third game. And if ever there was a point indicative of this match then it came a game later with Cibulokova 30-0 up on her own serve. Konta had the opportunity to get a foothold back in the game, but despite having control of the net, she was sent backpedalling by a lob, hit a weak return, and Cibulkova punished it with a forehand into the corner.
Cibulkova went on to hold serve, to take it to 1-3 and Konta never recovered despite the late rally to hold serve at 4-5. Cibulkova closed out the match to love, with a service game of typical accuracy and power, while Konta was powerless to turn the match back in her favour.
"I mean, she was hitting winners from five meters behind the baseline kind of thing," Konta said of Cibulkova. "She was obviously seeing the ball very well and feeling very good in the way she wanted to play. I found it very difficult to really get a foothold into the match."
Konta's exit leaves Kyle Edmund as Britain's sole hope in the singles, after Katie Boulter lost her Round 2 clash versus Naomi Osaka earlier on Thursday. Edmund defeated Bradley Klahn of the U.S. in straight sets to end the day on Centre Court on an upswing for British interests. However, Edmund will now face three-time champ Novak Djokovic in the third round on Saturday.