You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Johanna Konta sets herself one special target as Wimbledon draws near

The Independent logo The Independent 28-06-2017 Paul Newman
johanna-konta-2.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited johanna-konta-2.jpg

They are a tennis journalist’s stock-in-trade questions and Johanna Konta has her own stock-in-trade answers.

“I do have goals, but they are not results-orientated,” the British No 1 said towards the end of last year when asked whether she was aiming to reach the season-ending WTA Finals. “They are not ranking targets, they are personal goals. They are knowing that whatever happens on the court I have the ability to handle it.”

Asked last month about her expectations going into the French Open, Konta played a straight bat again. “They are actually very similar to every other tournament,” she said. “I’m looking to apply myself the best I can. I’m looking to stay here for as long as possible.”

Come the current grass-court season and her aims for it, the reply was true to form. “I think I sound like a broken record to you guys, but again I'm looking to compete the best that I can each week,” she told the media before last week’s Aegon Classic at Edgbaston.

Now, however, it is time to reveal that Konta does indeed have one special target in her tennis career. “Since I was a little girl, since I was nine years old, my dream has always been to be No 1 in the world,” she told The Independent.

“I’m pretty sure if you lined all of us players up in a row everyone would come forward with a very similar dream because that’s what you aspire to. You aspire to the highest levels of your sport.”

So has that dream of being world No 1 overridden any other ambitions, such as winning specific Grand Slam titles? “It was and still is a dream that will stay for me as long as I play,” Konta confirmed. “You don’t always get to achieve your dream, but you still get the opportunity to achieve a lot in your sport, so I think it’s important to keep a good perspective on things. But for me it was being No 1 in the world.”

Konta’s general disinclination to target specific results-dependent goals is all part of the mental approach that has served her so well in her rapid progress through the women’s ranks. A key part of that process is to stay within what she calls her “bubble”, focusing only on the task immediately at hand and not being distracted either by what might be going on around her or by thoughts of the implications of any particular victory or defeat.

Does that mean that competing at Wimbledon, where she will attempt to improve next week on her modest record of one victory in five appearances in the main draw, feels the same as playing anywhere else?

“I try to approach it like that,” she said. “But obviously playing at Wimbledon – particularly playing on Centre Court like I did last year – is a tremendous moment and I do enjoy it. I definitely do get a massive feeling of enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong – your head does pop out of the bubble here and there, but it’s just about bringing yourself back into it, to make sure that you just focus on the tennis.”

Konta played once in the girls’ singles at Wimbledon, reaching the third round in 2008, but it was her debut in the senior event four years later that is a stronger memory. Narrowly failing to bridge a gap of 180 places in the world rankings, she was beaten 6-7, 6-2, 10-8 by Christina McHale, the world No 32, in a match spread over two days.

“It was just so many firsts for me – my first Slam ever, the first time I had ever had to stop a match because of the light and come back the next day, the first time I think I had gone to such a length in a women’s match,” Konta said. “There were so many things that made it such a monumental experience for me. I still look back on that match really fondly.”

Although Konta remembers playing on grass only once when she was growing up in Australia - which she left when she was 13 - she believes that her game is suited to all surfaces and loves this time of year.

“Obviously for me it’s extra special because I get to drive to events,” she said. “I don’t set foot in an airport, I don’t set foot on a plane. So just being able to pack the car and drive to events, I do enjoy that.”

Konta was born and raised in Sydney by her Hungarian-born parents before moving to Europe with them when she was 13. Her father, Gabor, a hotelier, and her mother, Gabriella, a dentist, gave up their jobs and left specifically to give their daughter a better chance of building a career in tennis.

“They really sacrificed their lives to try make my dreams come true and try to encourage me and give me the opportunity to be the best that I can be,” Konta said. “It’s what has bonded us together as a family.”

She added: “My parents are very resilient people and they’re really tough and very passionate. They did what they taught me to do – never to give up and to keep trying your best.”

The family eventually settled in Eastbourne after Konta had spent 15 months on and off at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, where her time briefly overlapped with Andy Murray’s.

“A big goal of mine was to save up for an apartment for myself in London and I managed to reach that goal at the end of last year,” Konta said. “Now the next goal is to make sure that I can buy a little place for my parents as well. I want to make sure that I look after them just as well as they have looked after me.”

Konta is the third favourite to win Wimbledon on some bookmakers’ lists. With the pregnant Serena Williams absent, Angelique Kerber, the world No 1, struggling for form and many other top players yet to prove they can be grass-court champions, the consensus is that the women’s competition at the All England Club is more open than it has been for years.

However, 26-year-old Konta sounds a note of caution. “On paper obviously it does seem like that, but I think it’s also important to recognise that we have had other Grand Slam champions alongside Serena these last few years,” she said.

“I think it’s important to give credit to those players as well. As the years have gone by I think women’s tennis has developed more and more depth. It’s an exciting time to be part of the game.”

More from The Independent

The Independent
The Independent
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon