For most athletes, having their funding cut is a reality that could easily turn into a nightmare. For Johanna Konta however, it appears to have been a blessing in disguise.
Since seeing the British Lawn Tennis Association cut the financial support she was receiving, the newly crowned British Number One’s game has gone from strength to strength, with both the results and rankings to prove it.
Forced to move her training base to northern Spain and work more closely with coaches Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia, Konta has excelled.
Overcoming the performance anxiety that she has experienced throughout her career has been essential to her steady rise, and with each victory has come greater self-belief. After a 2014 which saw her fail to reach the final of a tournament, 2015’s campaign has been much more fruitful. Two tournament victories as well as another final appearance are evidence of the hard work paying off.
Perhaps most impressive was her form in August and September, which saw her win 21 out of a possible 22 matches, including a run to the fourth round of the US Open. This coming from a woman who had only ever won one single Grand Slam match in her entire career previously.
Rising from 150th in the world at the start of the year, to within the top 50 for the first time last week, the Australian-born Brit is arguably one of the favourites for the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) Most Improved Player of the Year Award. It may be a shock to casual tennis fans, but to those who know her, it seems only logical that she is now doing what she’s doing. Former British Number One Anne Keothavong does not see Konta’s rise as a flash in the pan: “Her ability to play has always been there. She’s always had a good serve, a great backhand, and she’s always been a good athlete.”
So what’s the limit for Konta? Top 20? Top 10? Dare we say it, grand slam champion? The latter might be a bit ambitious, at least at this moment in time, although she does now have multiple top 10 scalps to her name. Realistically, most pundits seem to place her as a solid top 20 player, potentially pushing for top 10 if she continues to improve.
To have a British woman consistently competing at the top tournaments and progressing in grand slams could give the women’s game in the UK a much needed shot in the arm, especially as the last British woman to break into the top 20 was Jo Durie in 1983.
It is of course easier said than done. In the tennis world, nothing is a given as injuries can strike at any time, or form can desert even the most gifted of players. Konta need only look at the previous two British Number Ones to see this. In September 2012, Laura Robson became the first British woman since 1990 to reach a WTA final, while just a few weeks later Heather Watson went one better to became the first British winner since 1988.
It was a time of great hope for British tennis fans: two young, improving players pushing each other onwards and upwards. Both looked destined for top 20 status but since then, their careers have stalled.
Robson has been plagued by a series of injuries since 2014, consequently slipping down to 542nd in the world as she fights to regain fitness and form. Watson has also been unlucky, though to a lesser degree, contracting glandular fever in 2013 and struggling to find form until earlier this year when she claimed her second WTA title.
Konta will hope the same fate does not befall her, as her talent and drive seem set to make a serious impact on the women’s game. At the age of 24, Johanna Konta is only just hitting her stride.
Image courtesy of Carine06.