Written by Jen Offord


Bird flying high

British tennis No 1 Johanna Konta has enjoyed an irresistible rise over the past year. She may have been knocked out of the Australian Open, but there’s no knocking her talent, says our sports correspondent Jen Offord.


Photo by Dacoucou, via Wikimedia Commons.

It might have escaped your attention that there’s been this little sporting competition over on the other side of the world for the last week or so, called the Australian Open.

It’s one of those Grand Slams as they call them in tennis, and it’s kind of a big deal. But it is in a different time zone and we do care a lot less about tennis when it’s not down the road in Wimbledon, legitimising the consumption of Pimms and strawberries. It would definitely feel odd to be drinking Pimms and eating strawberries at 5am, particularly in January.

It might have been more difficult, however, to escape all the patriotic noises about it, because we got not one, not even two, but THREE Brits through to the semi-finals, and one of them is a bird.

Joining Andy Murray in the men’s singles and his brother Jamie in the men’s doubles is none other than Johanna Konta, who you may remember from press noise a few months ago when she stopped being, well, a bit rubbish.

Konta has never even played in an Australian Open before. She’s actually only played in eight Grand Slams before, ever. Considering there are four a year and her first entry into one was in 2012, that’s not very many.

Her best ever result in a Grand Slam was in the US Open last year, when she made it to the fourth round, but even that was something of a surprise given she’d been knocked out in all but one of the other seven in the first round, prior to that.

She’s now out of the competition, thanks to yesterday’s clash against world number six, Angelique Kerber, but she is nonetheless the first British woman to reach a semi-final of a major tennis tournament since Jo Durie in 1983. She’s also one of just three British women to ever reach the last four of the Australian Open – along with Virginia Wade and friend of Sir Cliff, Sue Barker. She even knocked out seeded competitors Venus Williams – you know, Serena’s sister – and Ekaterina Makarova, and dropped only one set in all five of her matches to get there.

As I wrote last year when Konta first smashed her way into our collective national consciousness, she had been thought a little “over emotional”, during her less successful days. She was considered unable to separate herself from previous defeats that hung heavy on her shoulders as she tried to progress in her game.

So she sought the advice of a sports psychologist and there’s been no looking back. “If you live and die with your wins and losses it is an incredibly tough lifestyle to live,” she said. “Separating myself from that gave me a lot of enjoyment and perspective.”

“When talking about her schedule, and having to play matches on two consecutive days, Konta said she’d be a ‘real princess’ if she complained about that.”

Now, I once read a book about a pair of professional tennis players who were in a relationship and how it all went tits up because one was good and one was bad. There were some really bad analogies about how love was like a tennis match etc, which felt like a bit of an alien concept to me, so I definitely want to avoid that. Nonetheless, there’s a lot we can learn from Konta.

For a start, everyone loves a trier – it’s a universally undisputed fact (probably) and trying is character building (probably). But sometimes you need to try for a while to get where you want to be, and that’s OK. You just need to shake it off like Taylor Swift if you don’t get there quickly enough. And if you find you can’t, you might want to think about another strategy.

Also, and I’m going to take this on board personally, shouting isn’t always the answer when people don’t do exactly what you want them to do at exactly the point you want them to do it.

Johanna Konta playing tennis

Photo by Naparazzi, via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve watched a lot of tennis players shouting in the last week or so (Konta wasn’t one of them). They reminded me of people in Waitrose who couldn’t find the elderflower cordial they were after. Sure elderflower cordial’s great – so is winning a tennis match, I presume – but there’s no elderflower cordial, so you can’t have it: move on, don’t abuse the guy in the quilted gilet.

Finally, gratitude is nice, isn’t it? When talking about her schedule, and having to play matches on two consecutive days, Konta said she’d be a “real princess” if she complained about that. If you get paid to hit balls for a living, and you earn hundreds of thousands of pounds for the privilege, yes, Johanna, I would agree with you.

Whatever happens, Konta was ranked 97th in the world in August last year, and she’ll leave this tournament ranked somewhere in the top 30 (and also the nation’s sweetheart, like Cheryl Tweedy circa 2008), which is one thing we can allow her to be a bit shouty about.


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen