The ball hung high against the grey sky just long enough to unleash the demons we thought Jo Konta had left safely behind in the locker room.
She was leading 5-3 and had 15-40 against the serve of Marketa Vondrousova in their French Open semi-final, and the young Czech had sent up a flailing lob while hopelessly out of position.
Konta came charging in to deliver the killer blow to seal the set, only for a sliver of doubt to seep into her consciousness. Instead of crashing home the volley with the whole court to aim at she thumped it long and wide, offering her nervous opponent a reprieve.
Johanna Konta’s run at the French Open has been brought to an end by Marketa Vondrousova
Vondrousova put on a resilient display to book her place in the French Open final
Vondrousova overcame the tricky conditions and the threat of Konta to make the last two
Two more set points were to come and go, the second one another sloppy error. An hour later she was out of the tournament, beaten 7-5 7-6 by the world number 38.
Long after she has forgotten any controversy about where this match was scheduled and at what time, it is these points she will replay in her mind.
This had been a tournament where she had never won a match in the main draw, one that had morphed – due to her hugely admirable resolve – into the chance of a lifetime. But when opportunity came knocking the harsh reality is that she blew it.
It is likely that she would not have beaten the wonderfully creative talent of Ashleigh Barty in today’s final, but now we will never know. In letting go a 5-0 lead in the first set before beating American teenager Amanda Anisimova 6-7 6-3 6-3 the Australian showed that she, too, is susceptible to the occasion.
Konta continued to fight back but ultimately was overcome by the young Czech
Both players struggled through heavy winds as the spectators shivered in their seats
By the time she faces Vondrousova this afternoon Konta will be back at home, nursing this acute disappointment.
Prior to her articulate reasoning about what she saw as sexist scheduling she had mounted a brave face. She insisted that she would be leaving Paris in ‘Je ne regrette rien’ mode, but it is never quite that straightforward.
The uncertainties that have affected her in the past had come back. In the second set, which she falteringly served for at 5-4, anxiety was teased to the surface by the much improved play of her opponent.
The first, however, had simply been there for the taking. Later she had to analyse what went wrong on those first two set points, the second one of which saw her miss an easy backhand.
‘It was incredibly blustery out there,’ said Konta. ‘ I took the opportunity to come in and take it out of the air. That’s what I would do nine times out of ten, and probably nine times out of ten it probably would go in, as well.
‘Even the following point I think I hit a slice that maybe hit the net tape. I feel very comfortable with how I played and what I tried to do out there. I don’t think I have any regrets.’
This rings more true about her clay court season as a whole, which yielded two final appearances as well as this fortnight, far more than anyone could have reasonably expected.
Fans arrived to support Konta though many seats around the court were left vacant
It has put her back inside the world’s top twenty at number eighteen and sets her up well for Wimbledon, provided this one result is not allowed to fester within.
This was a third Grand Slam semi-final loss, and if she wants inspiration when it comes to persistence she could look at Andy Murray, albeit on a slightly different scale.
He lost his first four Major finals before coming good and Konta, who has similar levels of application, sings off a similar hymn sheet that the Scot used to do.
‘I’m putting myself into positions to try to make that extra step and making into a final. It’s either going to happen or it’s not,’ she said. ‘I still have a lot to be proud of, even if I were to stop playing tomorrow. I’m just as hungry and just as motivated to keep going forward and one day be in a position to be winning a Major.’
The tie-break was sealed at 7-2 in the second set as Konta tasted the agony of defeat
The British No 1 failed to secure victory from winning positions in both sets
It had been a strange morning all round, cold and spotting with rain, with a walk-up crowd of less than 1,000 on Court Simonne Mathieu at the 11am start.
Given how nervous Vondrousova was initially – she lost the first ten points – it may have helped the more experienced Konta if this had been played the day before on the much bigger Court Philippe Chatrier.
Yet it would not have changed the fact that the teenager had more margin for error in the wind with her groundstrokes than flat-hitting Brit, whose backhand turned fatally unreliable.
And the conditions were the same for both, as they were in the Barty match. Barely three years after taking six months out to play Big Bash cricket she will be favourite today to outsmart Vondrousova who, in truth, can play better than she did against Konta.