The spirit of 1977 might be about to return, but 40 years on it won’t have anything to do with the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen. For tennis fans there is an even more shocking prospect: a British woman could become a grand slam singles champion.
Johanna Konta, 25, whose only vice is ice cream, is Britain’s best female tennis player since Virginia Wade, who won Wimbledon in 1977.
Last year she became the first British woman to break into the world’s top ten since Jo Durie in 1984. Can Konta, who was beaten in the semi-finals of the Australian Open last year, now go further still? “I believe I can compete with the best in the world, and if that’s going to result in a grand slam victory, I don’t know,” she says, at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, southwest London. “But as long as I can keep putting myself in situations where I can compete at my best, I will give myself a shot.”
Konta has turned into a force as mentally resilient as anyone in the sport. And much of that transformation has been thanks to her Spanish “mind coach”, Juan Coto, who died in November at the age of just 47.
“I’m a firm believer in having to go through certain experiences to be able to deal with what’s going to happen in the future,” says Konta, who has said that Coto “is still very much a part of everything I do”.
It was in late 2014 that she started working with Coto, whose other clients included hedge-fund managers, lawyers and entrepreneurs, and soon after that she began her speedy rise up the rankings.
As recently as June 2015, she was ranked 147 in the world. One of the ideas he gave Konta was to make a daily list of the little things in life she appreciates: the food on the shelves of the local supermarket, or something as simple as fresh air or sunshine.
If she has had “a crap day”, she says that her daily list of gratitude helps her to maintain a sense of perspective.
It certainly seems to keep her feet on the ground. Born in Australia to Hungarian parents, a hotelier and a dentist, Konta came to the UK when she was 14 to further her development as a tennis player, and her family has stayed here since.
“Great Britain is my home and that’s where my heart is,” says Konta, who became a British citizen in 2012. “It’s where I grew up, essentially.”
She’s modest about her new high profile. “If I’m wearing civilian clothes, no one knows who I am,” she says. “I avoid the Tube when I’m in London, not because I might be swamped with people asking for my autograph, but because it’s a germ-box. If I’m recognised anywhere, it’s probably at home in Eastbourne.”
Was there a moment when she suddenly felt like an elite player? “It wasn’t as black and white as that. But I’m continuously pushing myself, physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s like when you’re wringing out a towel and you want to squeeze out every last drop. I want to improve every aspect of myself. I’m enjoying that process. I have to say, it does bring me a lot of joy.”
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