If British No1 Johanna Konta was not aware of the significance of her ranking for this year’s Championships at Wimbledon, it will have come when she was handed the key to the locker to be used for the duration of her stay in the tournament. She is now a big cheese in the women’s singles. Elevated a place from her original No17 ranking when Victoria Azarenka withdrew with a knee injury, it means Konta has exclusive access to the prestigious members’ dressing room rather than the ‘dungeon’ below stairs.
Konta laughs at the thought of her promotion among the elite of women’s tennis. “At first it was excitement to see if there are any differences in the locker rooms. But the showers and towels look the same, and once that initial excitement at something new wears off, you start thinking about things that are more important.”
So, no, Johanna Konta is not getting carried away with all the hype or the level of scrutiny and expectation her lofty ranking brings with it. And she is right to remain focused. The Sydney-born player may now be ranked 18th in the world, but she has never progressed past the first round of Wimbledon.
But in the year since the 2015 Championships, her stock has risen and she has become the first British woman to earn a Wimbledon seeding since Jo Durie in 1984. With that comes the pressure of playing in front of a partisan home crowd, previously reserved for the likes of Andy Murray, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski; that pressure will rise when she faces Puerta Rican Monica Puig in the first round.
“Do I have an extra gear for this Grand Slam? Not consciously, but maybe sub-consciously,” she says. “There are certain energies and emotions that go along with a slam. There are more people and more buzz, but consciously I approach every tournament the same.
“You’re playing the same players throughout the year. The stage changes, and so does the expectation of the crowd – all players will either rise to that or shy away. Both are just as likely. I don’t know which I will do – we’ll see how it goes! It will be a new thing for me. I have not experienced what Andy or Jamie [Murray] have. I am looking forward to it, but equally I am here to play my tennis and really enjoy what I do and give the crowd some big matches. I am here to play, not to get a reaction or manage expectations, I am here for me.”
Konta’s run of form this year has been remarkable. She became the first British woman to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam since Durie in 1983 before she eventually lost to Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-2 in the Australian Open.
And she almost became the first British woman to reach the final at Eastbourne since Virginia Wade 40 years ago, before losing in three tough sets to the Czech Karolina Pliskova and taking a nasty tumble in a dramatic semi-final. But despite grimacing, limping and in tears during the game, Konta insists she is fighting fit and ready for world No43 Puig, the other beaten semi-finalist down on the Sussex coast.
“It was more the shock of falling than pain,” she said. “Am I more confident based on my run of form? It would be hypocritical of me to say yes because going into Australia I had lost two first rounds. It’s not so much about the wins but how you feel in the matches you have played. And I feel like I have had some really good matches against some really good players, whether I have won some or lost some. I am very lucky to have had time on grass, too. I feel lucky I am healthy and the sun is shining, on and off. It’s good to be here.
“[Puig] is playing some really good tennis on this surface. It will be a really tough match and I expect nothing less.”
To emphasise how focused she is, here is Konta’s reply to being asked about the drama of the EU Referendum. “I have been in my own bubble playing at Eastbourne,” she said, “and really haven’t been watching that much. I am aware of what has happened, but my opinion is perhaps best discussed over dinner!” That focused. Or maybe she is just a first-rate diplomat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.