Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Carine06
Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Carine06

Does Johanna Konta have what it takes to win a Grand Slam?

With Murray recovering from his hip surgery, the great British hope at Wimbledon this year was Johanna Konta. After a strong start, Konta met her match in Barbora Strýcová, a doubles specialist ranked at 54th. She crumbled under pressure, committing 34 unforced errors and losing the quarter-final. Konta was unimpressed when sports journalists suggested that she may struggle in the latter stages of the big matches. However, there might be some truth to their concerns.

Konta has reached the semi-final stage in three individual Grand Slams, the 2016 Australian Open, the 2017 Wimbledon and the 2019 French Open. All of them ended in straight-set defeats. There are suggestions that she collapses under pressure of favouritism or as she reaches later stages of major tournaments. Her record seems to support those observations. That’s not to say that her season has been terrible, far from it. She is expected to rise in the world rankings (from 18 to 14) and she has played 29 matches since the start of the clay-court season in April. Far more than any other player on the main tour and a reflection of her success.

The question is, of course, whether Konta is willing to learn from her errors

The crumbling under pressure is something, however, that fellow professionals have picked up on. Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, said in an interview that “[Konta] has a tendency to be really fragile, especially her technique when something goes wrong. Her technique is very stiff, so when she becomes tight, it is a nightmare for her.” Similarly, Billie Jean King, expressing hope that Konta would learn from her defeats. King noted that “it’s hard to finish. Some players never learn how to finish. They get close, but not quite.”

The question is, of course, whether Konta is willing to learn from her errors. Whenever she is pulled up on mistakes in matches, she is quick to react in a defensive and overly thin-skinned manner. After going out in the opening round of the 2018 French Open, she blamed the local media for criticising her record, calling them “bastards”. When the stats were pointed out after her Wimbledon defeat this year, she sneered at the journalist. She asked if his question was born of his “professional tennis opinion” before accusing him of “picking on me in a harsh way” and being “patronising” and “disrespectful”. In sport, becoming a champion requires mental grit as much as it does physical ability.

“I see someone who is more sure of herself, more sure of how to handle herself in difficult situations”

However, there are suggestions that Konta’s style is changing. She recruited Dimitri Zavialoff as her coach at the end of last year and he has helped her add variety to her game. Her clay-court form has also improved, noticeably in the French Open this year. Prior to this, she had never progressed past the first round. Anne Keothavong, Britain’s Fed Cup captain, has noticed a change in Konta in recent months. She told The Independent that “I see someone who is more sure of herself, more sure of how to handle herself in difficult situations, someone who trusts herself that even if things aren’t immediately going to plan that she can figure a way back”.

At the post-game Wimbledon interview, Konta was asked whether her performances in recent Grand Slams left her more or less convinced that she would eventually win one. She answered with uncertainty. “I think the best I can do is put myself in these positions to give myself the opportunity to keep going further and further.” Konta goes on to say, “I mean, it will either happen or it won’t. I’m no less of a person or a player if I don’t get past this point. Equally so if I do. I play this game with dignity and I love the sport. I’m grateful for everything that it brings me.”

Despite this conservative answer, it’s impossible to deny that she has the skill and it would be surprising if it doesn’t happen. I beleive that it will. The big question is whether Konta can find that same inner belief and channel it into a victory.

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