After an unbelievable surge up the WTA Rankings, the British number one will hope to continue her rise towards the top of women’s tennis and possibly compete in this year’s majors, as the new tennis season gets underway.
Back in 1977, ABBA released their hit single ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’, which spent five weeks at number one, whilst George Lucas’s Star Wars opened in cinemas for the first time. On a more tragic note, ‘King of Rock and Roll’ Elvis Presley sadly passed away at his home in Graceland, Memphis aged just 42 in the same year.
But 1977 was also the last time a British woman made it to a Grand Slam single’s final.
Her name was Virginia Wade. Born in Bournemouth, she made it all the way to number two in the world during a successful playing career, which culminated in 55 singles titles.
Wade was also a brilliant doubles player- reaching world number one.
She won three Grand Slam singles championships and four Grand Slam doubles championships, making her the only British woman in history to have won titles at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
Some would’ve hoped that Wade was the first of many competitive and gifted female tennis stars from the UK. Instead, it’s been 50 years without a grand slam finalist.
Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Anne Keothavong have all been hit and miss, and although Andy Murray has won the US Open and Wimbledon twice in the last five years, we haven’t had too much to get excited about on the women’s side of the game.
But now we may have found someone who has the potential to finally follow in Wade’s footsteps.
Johanna Konta may be from Australia, and have Hungarian parents, but she has become a British sweetheart since gaining citizenship in 2012.
In doing so, she has created a sense of excitement in the country.
Her remarkable rise up the rankings in 2016 was a joy to behold for tennis and sports fans, but she has steadily improved her game over the last five years.
In 2012 she won her first ever Grand Slam match at the US Open- a straight sets victory over Timea Babos. She was only 21 at the time, and ranked 203 in the world.
2013 saw her move up in the rankings at a easy pace, and by 2014, she had broken into the top 100.
A drop in form saw her fall back to world no.150 in December 2014, with people beginning to label her as another false hope.
No one saw or even expected what was to come next in 2015.
Despite an opening round defeat to Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon, Konta was able to experience Centre Court for the first time, and went into the US Open that year with subdued optimism.
At Flushing Meadows she went on a remarkable run, reaching the last 16 before being knocked out by Petra Kvitova. Bearing in mind she had only won just the single Grand Slam match prior to the tournament, her name began to once again be talked up by pundits and journalists.
Following on from her US Open displays, Konta performed heroically at the 2015 Wuhan Cup. She defeated former world number one Victoria Azarenka and world number two at the time Simona Halep before agonisingly losing out in the quarter-finals to Venus Williams.
Her runs in both the US Open and Wuhan Cup saw her climb into the top 50 for the first time in her career, and become British number one ahead of Watson.
At this point even the WTA were noticing Konta, which resulted in her becoming a finalist at the end of season awards ceremony for most improved player. She lost out to French Open semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky.
For the first time, Konta went into a season with expectation on her shoulders in 2016, and it looked like it was having an effect on her performances.
An opening round exit at the Shenzhen Open was followed by another early exit at Hobart.
However, at the Australian Open, Konta went on a run which saw her defeat Venus Williams, Zheng Saisai, Denisa Allertová, Ekaterina Makarova, and qualifier Zhang Shuai. Her journey in Melbourne ultimately came to an end in the semifinals, where she lost to eventual champion Angelique Kerber in straight sets.
But for the first time in 32 years, a female tennis player from Britain had made it to the last four of a Grand Slam. She also became the first British female player to be seeded at Wimbledon for three decades last June.
To cap off her consistent year, Konta won her first WTA event, beating Venus Williams in the final of the Stanford Classic in California 7-5 5-7 6-2.
In December 2016 she broke into the top 10 in the world- becoming the first female Brit to achieve the feat since Jo Durie in 1984.
During the off-season, Konta has changed her coach, with Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia being replaced by Belgian Wim Fissette.
Some may have questioned her choice, but after their first pre-season together, the pair seem to have enhanced her game even more.
At the time of writing, She has made it to the semi-finals of the Shenzhen Open- her first event of 2017.
So what makes Konta such a difficult opponent? Why could she challenge for a Grand Slam title?
Her natural skill and athleticism..yes. But also her incredible mindset. She somehow manages to keeps herself grounded, and goes into every tournament one game at a time.
She doesn’t think about rankings or prize money. She never thinks two or three rounds down the line. She respects each opponent she faces and treats each match like a final.
From watching her on television, Konta seems a calm, cheerful and well tempered individual. It’s rare you’ll see her raise her voice or answer back. She seems comfortable and at ease with the media, and doesn’t let the luxuries of being one of the top 10 players in the world effect her lifestyle.
She has also never given up on her dreams.
Financially, working with Garcia and Carril was a straining business. It was a big gamble. But one that paid off evidently. She stuck by her coaches, and her coaches stuck by her. Despite her funding from the Lawn Tennis Association being slashed, she still managed to earn the money needed to take up necessary training camps in northern Spain.
If there are any young females wanting someone to emulate or grow up to be like, Johanna Konta is a perfect example. Work hard, don’t give up and always follow your dreams.
That is the Konta way.
Moving from another country to pursue in a career is always a challenge, but it’s one that has left a young tennis starlet – and a nation deprived of women’s champions for half a century – very much on the road to glory.