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Johanna Konta loses to Maria Sakkari in Morocco Open final

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Konta came through three matches in Rabat in three sets – but could not manage a fourth

British number one Johanna Konta missed out on her first WTA clay-court title after Greece’s Maria Sakkari fought back to win the Morocco Open.

Konta led by a set and a break before Sakkari won 10 of the final 11 games to seal a 2-6 6-4 6-1 victory in Rabat.

Britain’s two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist served strongly in the opening set before unforced errors crept in.

Sakkari sealed her first WTA title with a forehand winner on her second championship point.

The 23-year-old fell on her back on the red clay before kissing the surface in celebration after being congratulated at the net by Konta.

Clay-court encouragement for Konta despite defeat

Konta, 27, climbed to fourth in the world after her run to the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2017, having reached the last four at the Australian Open the previous year, but has not replicated her grass and hard-court success on the clay.

She has a lower winning percentage on the red dirt and has lost all four of her main-draw matches at the French Open, which is the only Grand Slam on the surface.

However, an encouraging week in Rabat showed the world number 47 does possess the game to improve that record when the French Open begins on 26 May.

After surviving three match points in her opening match, seventh seed Konta also came through three-set matches in the next two rounds before beating semi-final opponent Ajla Tomljanovic in straight sets.

Those exertions earlier in the week meant Konta had spent three hours longer on court than Sakkari, the Briton seeming to tire in the deciding set as a result.

Konta’s first-service percentage dropped from 81% in the first set to 46% in the third, with Sakkari not mustering a single break point until she took her first opportunity when Konta led 4-3 in the second set.

That shifted the momentum to the Greek sixth seed, who had not dropped a set on the way to her second WTA final and first showpiece on clay.

Konta began to make more unforced errors and, after levelling the match and then breaking in the fourth game of the decider, world number 51 Sakkari cruised towards victory.

Nevertheless, Konta will be positives about her performances in Rabat before heading to the Madrid Open and will rise up to 41st in the world as a result of her run.

Analysis

Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent

Possibly fatigue was a factor, but this time – unlike in Easter weekend’s Fed Cup tie and in her previous matches in Rabat – Konta was unable to close out a winning position.

It was a hugely encouraging week up until that point, and five clay-court matches should come in very handy for the tougher challenges ahead in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.

Konta is back on the cusp of the world’s top 40, but success comes with strings attached.

The British number one must now play Alison Riske in Madrid on early Sunday evening, with French Open champion Simona Halep likely to await the winner in the second round.



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