One step at a time for in-form Konta

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Johanna Konta of Britain celebrates her victory over Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens in their women’s singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PETER PARKS /

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 dismantling Flipkens.

“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 5-5.

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 succumbed meekly.

“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.”

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