The Australians are trying to claim her as one of their own, but Johanna Konta is having none of it.
Born in Sydney but now a British citizen and passport holder, she is the best female player in her adopted country. But there is something about Australia that brings out the best in her. It was in Melbourne last year that she made her huge breakthrough, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and it is back in Melbourne this year that she is presenting herself as a real contender for the title.
She reinforced her credentials yesterday with a 6-3, 6-1 demolition of Caroline Wozniacki, the former world No.1, and set up camp in the fourth round. There she will play Ekaterina Makarova, the woman she beat in three hard-fought sets at the same stage of the competition last year.
The win brought her tally of success Down Under to eight straight matches with not a set dropped. She swept all before her to win the Sydney title before moving on to Melbourne and continuing in the same vein here. She was aggressive from the first ball, jumping on her returns and hitting her backhand to perfection. No wonder the Australians want a player like her on their side.
It was that focused power and determination that first alerted Wim Fissette to her potential. The former coach to Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka, former world No.1s both, he showed an interest in coaching Konta at the end of last year. When the call came from her agent to say that she was interested, he jumped at the chance.
“I absolutely believe she belongs at the top, she has everything to be there,” Fissette said. “She has got a great strong body and a strong mind and her game is very big so she has got everything to be at the top. What is common with all those players is that they want to improve and get better every day and have high ambitions and that’s what I also find with Jo. Her ambitions are high.
“She’s got that extra factor, absolutely. There’s one other thing I feel she has in common with players like Sharapova, Azarenka, and that is to keep the concentration for the whole match at the same level. I mean, she has some moments where she can make a few more unforced errors, but she will play every point – whether it’s 40-love, or love-40 – with the same intensity of concentration as all the other points. That’s what I see in her that’s very important, as well.”
There are plenty of players who work hard, who train hard but who never reach a major final, much less win one. There is an X factor in the true champions that, to the trained eye, stands out like a beacon. And Fissette believes that Konta has it.
“I do feel when she’s playing well she can beat everyone,” he said. “I do believe that. And I do believe there will be a day when she can win a grand slam. I don’t say when. But also for me, when I got a call from her agent, I believed already that there will be a day that she can win a grand slam, especially with her attitude, trying to get better every day. I do believe in that.”
Fissette – and Konta, for that matter – are not dreaming of the final here. Both are too professional to let themselves be drawn into that trap. First there is Makarova to deal with and she is more than enough to worry about at the moment. But the signs are all promising.
Konta is a curious blend of focused athlete and outgoing personality. For the media, trying to get past one side of her character to catch a sneak peek of the other is all but impossible. She presents herself as friendly, polite and intelligent but she gives nothing away. Fissette sees the other side of her after the day’s work is done and he likes what he sees.
“Oh yeah – she’s a very funny girl,” he said. “We laugh a lot. We have lots of fun. She’s serious about business; this is her business. She wants to perform at the highest level and she takes it very seriously. When there’s a gym session – her trainer’s not here at the moment – but she has a list of what to do, and she will do it from the first to the last exercise, perfectly. She’s serious about it. But, off court, she’s completely the opposite. She’s a very nice girl who likes to have fun and relax.”
Relaxing, though, will have to wait. She has seven more days of work if she is to play in the final – and that could include facing Serena Williams in the quarter-finals. On the evidence of yesterday’s performance, Wozniacki believes Konta has the wherewithal to defeat Williams. Fissette certainly thinks so.
“She’s at a very high level now, but there’s a lot of room for improvement – on every aspect of her game,” he said. “I still believe the serve can be even bigger than it is now. I believe her ground strokes can be more solid, her movement can be better. They are the goals, to get better every day. I’m sure she will only get better.”