Johanna Konta - a trailblazer in her own right, even with lack of Grand Slam success

Former British number 1 Johanna Konta announced her retirement from the sport of tennis on December 1, ending a short but memorable career.

Johanna Konta in a file photo. (Twitter: @WTA_insider)

In her statement announcing her retirement from the sport of tennis, Johanna Konta mentioned that “all the evidence pointed towards me not ‘making’ it in this profession”.

More than saying anything about her, it says a lot about how narrow one’s prism for viewing success or failure in sport is. For most, a tennis player is successful only if they win one or multiple Grand Slams. Or if, at the very least, they claim some of the more prestigious WTA Tour titles.

In that sense, Konta is right to argue that evidence points to her not having ‘made’ it in the sport. To make matters worse, her retirement comes at the age of 30.

Granted, crossing three decades of existence on Earth spells the start of a decline for pro sportspeople. But many play on for at least another 5-6 years thereafter, if not until their 40s.

However, to judge Konta’s career purely on the merits of titles won would be doing her a disservice. The very fact that she reached as high as she did in the first place is commendable.

Not only did her rise begin later than most, she’s also dealt with injury issues that arguably curtailed her career well before it should have ended.

That being said, hers is still a career worth celebrating. Especially when you consider the impact she had on British tennis as a whole, and the nation’s recent resurgence in the sport.

Johanna Konta – a late bloomer who overachieved

Born to Hungarian parents in Sydney, Australia, Johanna Konta started playing tennis at the age of 8. However, it would take her much longer to reach the upper echelons of the sport.

Her first WTA event came in Copenhagen in 2010; but it would be years before she became a consistent presence on the tour. Even as late as 2015, she was still struggling to break into the top 100 of the rankings.

She began that year by playing in the qualifying rounds of WTA events at Shenzhen and Sydney. By the end of the year, however, the story was different.

She did not impress much in either the French Open or Wimbledon, where she made the main draw. However, some positive form saw her embark on an incredible run in the US Open.

She made it to the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows, with a notable scalps including Garbine Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic. She lost thereafter to Petra Kvitova, but rose up the rankings to 58 thereafter.

Konta would follow this up with a run to the quarterfinals in the Wuhan Open, where she lost to eventual tournament winner Venus Williams. However, her ranking by the year end was 47. And she never looked back.

Since then, she managed to make it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open (2016), Wimbledon (2017) and the French Open (2019).

She’s also won four WTA titles – the Silicon Valley Classic (2016), Sydney International (2017), Miami Open (2017) and the Nottingham Open (2021).

But it was more than just tournament wins that defined her. Konta was the first female British player in three decades to achieve such heights in the WTA Tour.

Indeed, before the sudden emergence of Emma Raducanu, it was Johanna Konta who carried the hopes of the British public.

The decline

Unfortunately for her, the knee issues that plagued her throughout recent years ended up ending her career. The right knee tendon injury required regular treatment, and even forced her to curtail her schedule.

In her prime, she was one of the best natural athletes on the tour. Her groundstroke game was strong, as was both her first and second service. As such, on her day she could tear through absolutely any player in front of her.

However, her career will be at least partially defined by inconsistency. One of the reasons she took so long to break through was due to poor runs of form dropping her down the rankings in her earlier days.

Even as a pro, she was sometimes criticised for not having a Plan B. Many even believed she crumbled in crunch situations, leading many to question her mental fortitude.

However, it is worth noting that the fact she even had a career this long was down to immense mental strength and dedicated hard work. There have been many who showed promise but fell to the wayside on the WTA Tour.

For years, Konta looked like she might be among those. But she worked hard on her game, improved her consistency and carried the torch for British tennis. In the end, it was injuries as much as anything else that did her in.

Legacy

Her last tour match came in the Cincinnati Open earlier this year; she lost to Czech Karolina Muchova in the first round. It was after this match she knew her career was over.

“I held my racquet because I was putting it away and I started crying,” she told WTA Insider about that match.

“In that sense, it is a break-up. But it is amicable because I don’t look back on my career and judge it according to everything that it took from me.”

Overall, however, she views her time in the sport in a very positive light. “I’m probably the poster child of somebody who carved out a career for them when all evidence pointed that it was not going to happen,” she said.

“I think if I can give any hope, motivation or inspiration to anyone who ever felt they were too old or not talented enough or overlooked, anything along those lines, I think I would feel very happy with that.”




WRITTEN BY
Shayne Dias

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