For Johanna Konta, the French Open No20 seed, it’s about ‘finding the right balance’
Johanna Konta, just a week after turning 25, is set to embark on her first Grand Slam as a seed at French Open
For Johanna Konta, who just a week after turning 25 embarks on her first Grand Slam as a seed, the firsts seem to keep coming.
In 2012, which she began ranked outside the top 300, the Briton played her first Grand Slam match, at her home Major at Wimbledon. A couple of months later, she won her first Grand Slam match, coming through qualifying at the US Open. She ended the year at 153.
In 2013, soon after turning 22, she won her first main-tour match, on home grass in Birmingham, followed by back-to-back ITF hard-court titles. By the end of the year, she had made back-to-back WTA quarter-finals and was edging towards the top 100.
Fast forward to 2015, which she began ranked back at 150, and it was again on her home turf that the changes she had made to her regime and her team began to stoke the talent.
With LTA funding cut as she turned 24, she took matters into her own hands, trained in Spain, sought the help of a sports psychologist to help overcome her nerves by focusing on ‘the moment’, and voila, the second surge was under way.
At Eastbourne, she beat No4 seed Ekaterina Makarova and then No14 seed Garbine Muguruza to reach the quarter-finals.
More back-to-back ITF titles in North America heralded a breakthrough fourth-round run at the US Open, having come through three qualifying rounds and through Muguruza followed by No18 seed Andrea Petkovic. Then it was the quarters in Wuhan, also via qualifying and a win over then No2 Simona Halep.
She began this year inside the top 50 for the first time, made the main draw of the Australian Open for the first time, where she reached her first Grand Slam semi-final. That earned her first seedings at the Premier Mandatories in Indian Wells and Miami—where she made her first quarter-final at that level—and then was into her first Madrid and Rome main draws.
And so to Paris for her first Major seeding in her first French Open main draw.
It has come in a rush, albeit after years of hard work and hard decisions. But she is a woman who seems to take each new step in her calm and focused stride while at the same time revelling in every new experience along the way.
Talking with her usual enthusiasm—for her off-court personality bubbles with fun and informality—she explained how life and tennis have moved on since her dramatic three-set loss after making it through qualifying here at Roland Garros last year. Back then, ranked 143, she went down, 7-6 (17), 4-6, 6-2, to Denisa Allertova in what might have left a bitter taste in the mouth of other players.
“By the way, that tie-break is still a record here!” she opened.
“It was a great stepping stone for me to see the level I could play at. I really enjoyed it for what it was, played three really good matches in qualifying. My year has been very different since. Never played a full WTA schedule so that’s completely new for me this year, playing new events like Madrid and Rome, had never played Miami before, and first direct acceptance here to the main draw. It’s a lot of new things.”
For a woman who has thrived more on hard and grass courts than clay, she is even finding a special pleasure on the red stuff. In Rome, she showed the ‘glass half full’ attitude that seems now so deeply engrained in her life and tennis.
“I enjoy it. I think it’s quite a lot of fun, actually… I’m definitely accumulating new experiences. And hopefully the work I put in now will also translate into not just next year but also the next surfaces that I play on. I think there is a lot of crossover no matter what surface we are playing on… I definitely feel that the more opportunities I’m able to create for myself to play matches here, the more comfortable things will feel.”
In Paris, the ‘firsts’ have continued with a vengeance, beginning with a bonus that comes from seeded status: a place in the Philippe Chatrier locker room.
“Yes, I’m here! Yes, I got really excited about that. I had to spend five minutes looking around the locker-room. I was like: ‘I haven’t been here yet. I need to see where everything is before I choose my locker.’ And I chose locker 11 because that was my highest junior ranking. It was also available—and not many were available!”
She will surely be a welcome addition there, too: friendly and lively, respectful but not star-struck, feeling that she belongs but treating every moment as something to relish.
“I don’t really try to belong anywhere. I’m part of the women’s tour and there’s a lot of us, but at the same time it’s quite a small world. Whoever I’m competing against, whether Vika or Serena, or someone 70 or 80, everyone’s trying to do their best and work their hardest to be out there.
“And yes, for me, it is a friendly atmosphere [laughing]. I talk to everyone! I always make an effort to say good morning and goodbye. I like to think [smiling] that I’m just a nice person and people want to talk to me!”
“But it’s a fine line because we are colleagues and we are competitors but I like to think we can also be very civil and even friendly to each other off court. I think it’s just finding that right balance.”
And therein seems to be the secret to the rise and rise of Konta—balance: “Whatever I’m doing, I try to look at the positives.”
She insists that she never looks beyond the first round of her draw—and since she is in the same eighth as the Australian Open champion, Angelique Kerber, who beat her in Melbourne, and the same half as defending champion Serena Williams and the Indian Wells and Miami champion Victoria Azarenka, perhaps that is just as well.
So she will focus on her first match, scheduled for Tuesday, in another first against the dangerous German Julia Goerges who has been as high as No15, and only last week reached the semis in Nurnberg. Konta put it simply: “I’ll compete the best I can, and most importantly, I’ll enjoy being at this great event.”