Can the rise of Konta continue with a home town victory?

Johanna Konta following her victory against Venus Williams at the Australian Open
Johanna Konta following her victory against Venus Williams at the Australian Open

By Derren Howard

Johanna Konta will return to the familiar surroundings of Devonshire Park for the AEGON International this week but so much has changed for her since last year.

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In June 2015 Konta was ranked 146th in the world and was scarcely known by the Sussex public let alone on the national stage.

In just 12 short months the 25-year-old became the British No.1 and saw her world ranking rocket to 18 as she became the first British lady to break into the top 20 since Jo Durie in 1983.

She has won tournaments in Canada and beat some of the world’s finest players as she reached the quarter-finals of the US Open and the semi-finals of the Australian. Her career earnings have jumped to $1,720,907 and she has also been selected, alongside the Murray brothers and Heather Watson, to represent Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I guess it has been (quite a year),” Konta said. “But to be honest I don’t look at it that way.

“I am continuously working and it’s part of the process. Sometimes I’m surprised by it but I’m being honest when I say I don’t pay too much attention to the rankings.

“I work hard and I guess it is just a result doing well. Because I’m in the journey it’s hard for me to get too excited but I know that my parents and the people around me are pleased so that’s a good thing.”

Konta required a wild card into the main draw of her home town event last year but fully capitalised on her opportunity.

Her first match at Devonshire Park in 2015 was watched by a just handful of spectators on a chilly Monday evening.

Her straight sets victory against Zarina Diyas saw her progress and she went on to beat the World No. 8 Ekaterina Makarova and recent French Open winner Garbiñe Muguruza.

She was knocked out in the quarters by eventual champion, the outrageously talented teenager Belinda Bencic, but her confident performances in BN21 proved career defining.

From Eastbourne she experienced Wimbledon but was beaten in the first round on a packed centre court by Maria Sharapova who has since been banned for two years for use of illegal substances.

Following that loss her form was nothing short of incredible as she want on a winning run of 16 matches and won titles at the Granby QC and the Vancouver singles.

At the next Grand Slam she reached the quarter final of the US Open and at the Australian she went one better as she battled her way through to the semis, beating Venus Williams along the way.

“I feel very humbled. I’m pleased that I have been able to stay healthy and give my best at the tournaments I have entered.

“Obviously the US and the Australian stand out because they are two of the Grand Slams. The French Open (first round defeat ) was disappointing.

“I wanted to be more competitive but I came up against a player (Julia Goerges) who played extremely well on the day.

“You have to be kind to yourself though, you can’t get too down with losses and you can’t get too high with the wins.

“As long as I am healthy and giving my best at the these tournaments then I’m happy.”

Konta was born in Sydney, Australia to Hungarian parents Gabor, a hotel manager, and Gabriella, a dentist. One of Konta’s grandfathers, Tamás Kertész, played football and won two international caps for Hungary in the 1950s and later coached the Ghana national team.

She was introduced to tennis at the age of eight and when she was 14 attended the Sanchez Casal tennis academy in Barcelona. While she was in Spain her parents moved to England and settled in Eastbourne.

She trained at the National Tennis Academy in Roehampton from 2012 and enjoyed sporadic success on the tour. Her career took an upward turn in 2014 as she teamed up with Spanish coach Esteban Carril and mental coach Juan Coto, since then the improvements have been clear to see.

Expectations among tennis fans have certainly increased following her rapid rise. Can Konta go one better at the Eastbourne International this year in front of her home crowd and reach the semi-final or possibly the final?

“Obviously I would love to say that I will win my home event but it does not work like that,” she added. “You can’t take things for granted, there are no guarantees.

“I will enjoy the event, I will enjoy being at home and not flying and not dealing with airport security. It’s great for me to have a home event with a home crowd.

“I will be doing my best and see how it goes.”

Off the court, with the help of her new sports and publicity agent Octagon, her profile has increased.

She has enjoyed magazine shoots, appearances on prime time TV with the Clare Balding Show and the Jonathon Ross Show and recently she was named Glamour Women of the year winner.

All things considered, not such a bad year for the 25-year-old from Sovereign Harbour.