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Injury-affected Konta winds up with early exit

By Dennis Passa

The Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — Johanna Konta wasn’t sure even as she celebrated Christmas if she’d make the long trip to Australia for the year’s first Grand Slam tournament because of her recovery from a chronic knee problem.

It turned out to be a long way to go for two matches.

The 2016 Australian Open semifinalist lost her first-round match to Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-2 on Tuesday. It was only her second match since she lost in the quarterfinals of last year’s U.S. Open because of a tendinitis-related problem in her right knee.

Konta lost in the first round at the Brisbane International and then withdrew from the Adelaide International in an attempt to manage her injury. Even before she left for Australia, the British No. 1 told officials she wouldn’t play Fed Cup this year.

The 12th-seeded Konta appeared to be moving without issue on Tuesday, but was outclassed by the 25-year-old Tunisian player who had beaten her the last time the two played last year at Eastbourne. Jabeur broke Konta to win the first set, the British player replied with her only break of the match to open the second, but Jabeur dominated the rest of the way.

Konta had always made at least the second round in four previous appearances in the main draw here. Still, she was upbeat after the loss.

“I think ultimately the main thing was to start playing again, and I am,” she said,. “And how I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September of last year. Before Brisbane, I had been out for almost 4-1/2 months. So it’s been quite a bit of time, not far off getting a protected ranking.”

Jabeur said her goal this year is to make it into the top 20 — she’s currently 78th — and to inspire other African Arab players to pick up the sport.

“It would be nice to see more of us out here on tour,” Jabeur said.

After torrential rain his Melbourne Park on Day 1, organizers had to move dozens over to Tuesday, including the Konta-Jabeur match.

Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 7-5 and sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic advanced 6-3, 7-5 over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

In a men’s match suspended from Monday, 18-year-old Jannik Sinner completed a 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-4 win over Australian qualifier Max Purcell, 2018 Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic beat Corentin Moutet 6-3, 6-2, 6-4..

The Next Gen ATP Finals champion won the last two games of the match on Tuesday. It was Sinner’s first Grand Slam victory after losing to three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka in four sets at last year’s U.S. Open.

“I was up in the score, so it was a little bit easier for me,” Sinner said of his brief appearance on Day 2. “Obviously I wanted to finish yesterday. We waited here till 8 p.m., so it’s been a long day yesterday for me, for every player.”

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal was set to make his tournament debut in the final day match against Hugo Dellien. Only one of Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam singles titles have come at the Australian Open — in 2009– and he lost last year’s final to Novak Djokovic.

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