The Resident meets Britain’s top female tennis player, Johanna Konta, who has risen from world number 150 in 2015 to a place in the top 10 to become the nation’s Wimbledon wild card
‘The only difference between try and triumph is a little oomph’… This quote is a particular favourite of Johanna Konta’s, underlining why she is not your normal sports star.
An Australian-born daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Konta hasn’t taken a traditional path towards the summit of her sport. Two years ago she needed a wild card to make Wimbledon, where she was beaten effortlessly in straight sets by Maria Sharapova – how times have changed, for both players. While Sharapova, the 2004 champion at the All England Club, is hoping to make the draw at the organisers’ discretion following her 15-month doping ban, Konta is now an established main attraction.
Since 2015 Konta has risen from a position as the world number 150 to a place in the top ten, her breakthrough being a stunning run to the semi-finals at last year’s Australian Open. But her Wimbledon record needs some refining: in five previous appearances she’s won just one singles match. ‘I have won plenty of doubles matches at Wimbledon,’ she counters.
It’s typical of Konta to always accentuate the positive. Sometimes hearing her speak you believe she’s been spending a little too much time with Juan Coto, her sports psychologist. ‘I don’t do highs and lows,’ she says, while admitting she is also banned from playing Monopoly with her family because she gets ‘too competitive’.
‘I’m about getting better, I’m about continuous improvement,’ she says. ‘I love dealing with new experiences and growing as a person, not just a tennis player. The way I think is every match is incredibly important to my development, every experience tests me and pushes my boundaries.
‘I’m good at internalising things. I try to be positive, but that doesn’t mean I don’t beat myself up on the inside when things don’t go right or as I planned them to go. If you work extremely hard in training and preparation, but come off feeling upset about whatever the result is, then it’s just self-destructive.’
I’m good at internalising things. I try to be positive, but that doesn’t mean I don’t beat myself up
Konta has long had a desire for self-improvement, with her single-minded focus on tennis meaning she was home schooled from the age of 12. She talks about her ‘18-year tennis career’, which is surprising considering she is only 26. ‘I essentially taught myself, but I loved maths and I loved history – I just loved learning and still do,’ she smiles.
For years Andy Murray has shouldered the burden of home expectations at the All England Club, delivering two men’s singles titles to erase a stubborn stain on the British sporting record in the process. But you need to go back to Jo Durie in the early 1980s to find the last home women’s player to arrive at Wimbledon with such high hopes.
Durie reached consecutive semi-finals in 1983 and 1984, but don’t expect to hear Konta setting public goals for this year’s Championships. ‘I don’t think too much about other people’s expectations or their opinions,’ she adds. ‘If I lose in the first round or the semi-finals nothing is going to change my core values because you have to value the effort you put in. I want to become a grand slam champion and to become the best in the world. That’s why I try to see defeats as motivating, as they get me closer to that goal.’
But Konta is now accustomed to winning, her victory at the Miami Open earlier this year was the biggest title won by a British women since Virginia Wade triumphed at Wimbledon in 1977. And that means – like it or not – a nation will now expect.