The Mixed Zone continues its examination of the nominations for the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year Award 2016 with Susan Egelstaff lending her support to the tennis player Johanna Konta. Articles on each of the 10 athletes nominated for the prestigious annual award will appear here before the winner is announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.
The winner, from a memorable year of sporting achievements by British female athletes, will be decided by public vote. For details of how you can cast your vote, plus the full list of nominations, CLICK HERE
If this time two years ago someone had suggested that Johanna Konta would be a top-ten tennis player by the end of 2016, they would have been considered crazy. Konta had ended the 2014 season ranked 150 in the world; she was nothing more than a journey-woman professional on the WTA Tour. However, she cannot be described as that anymore. If 2015 marked the British No1’s breakthrough season, then 2016 was the year she really made a name for herself.
By reaching the quarter-finals of the US Open last year, having only made the main draw after negotiating the qualifying rounds, Konta showed glimpses of her potential. Her third-round victory against French Open champion, Garbine Muguruza, which lasted an incredible three hours 23 minutes, was a particular highlight. However, there was a fear, a legitimate one, that Konta’s performance at Flushing Meadow was no more than a flash in the pan, and that she would return to being a player who achieved decent, but unspectacular results.
How wrong that fear turned out to be. In her maiden Australian Open appearance in January of this year, Konta reached the semi-finals, the first British woman to do so for 33 years. Her impressive run was ended by eventual winner, Angelique Kerber, but Konta’s performance was a sign of what was to come. A string of consistent performances, including wins over Petra Kvitova, Dominika Cibulkova, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova, helped Konta creep up the world rankings.
By October, she was in with a real shout of qualifying for the year-end WTA Finals. She may have missed out by a single spot in the end, but another strong performance in her final tournament of the year ensured she finished 2016 inside the world’s top ten, the first British women to achieve such a ranking since Jo Durie in 1984. Konta was, deservedly, given the WTA’s award for most improved player, an accolade few could dispute.
Konta said: “I know I’ve achieved something good when I’m mentioned in the same sentence as Jo. It’s really humbling. I think it’s my application towards every match which has given me the consistency I needed to get here. I fight for every point and I don’t treat wins against the best any different from other ones.”
Durie added her own tribute when she said: “It’s all happened in the last 15 months for Jo. She’s very good at keeping it in the moment.”
This year has been unarguably impressive, but what makes Konta’s rise particularly intriguing is her journey to this point. The 25-year-old, Australian-born of Hungarian parents, has not followed the traditional trajectory of child prodigy to international star; rather, Konta is something of a late-developer when it comes to women’s tennis. As a junior, her results were pretty uninspiring and the Australian federation, who she represented as a junior, rescinded her funding.
Konta became a British citizen in 2012, but at that stage nobody was paying a blind bit of notice; all eyes were on the prodigious talent of Laura Robson, who had won junior Wimbledon in 2008 and had been touted as the ‘next big thing’ in British tennis.
But rather than settle for being a decent but unspectacular player, Konta went looking for methods that could move her to the next level. She has employed the services of a mental coach – Juan Coto joining her all-Spaniard training team – and this is one of the primary factors in making her 2016 so impressive that I am backing her for the BT Sports Action Woman Award.
Over the last 12 months, Konta has become more resilient, better able to deal with pressure and generally tougher on court – qualities that are invaluable in elite sport. In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, she said: “The way my personality is I do internalise some things and I beat myself up on the inside and so as an adolescent that’s a lot of garbage to work though while living, eating, sleeping and breathing tennis.
“It’s now about doing my best no matter where I am. If you work extremely hard but come off feeling upset about the result it’s self-destructive. You can hurt yourself. As long as you value the effort you put in you remain your own best friend.”
Konta’s meteoric rise in the rankings can be put into perspective when you consider that she is above players of the calibre of Petra Kvitova, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. There are few women’s sports that have the strength-in-depth of tennis, so for Konta to be inside the world top ten is truly remarkable. And the exciting thing is, 2017 could be even more prosperous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Egelstaff is an Olympic badminton player who competed at London 2012, as well as representing Scotland at three Commonwealth Games, winning two bronze medals. She retired in the aftermath of the London Games after a 12-year international career. Having written the occasional article for newspapers while still competing, she decided to try and make sports journalism a job. Susan is now a columnist and sports writer with The Herald, The Sunday Herald and The National and is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Scotland. Susan is also heavily involved with the Winning Scotland Foundation, a charity which helps children achieve their goals. Susan’s latest articles.