Wimbledon 2017: Johanna Konta rejects ‘favourite’ tag

Johanna Konta returns against Greece's Maria Sakkari during their third round match. Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Johanna Konta returns against Greece's Maria Sakkari during their third round match. Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
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The first major hurdle has been overcome – Johanna Konta has found safe passage through the first week of Wimbledon and is now comfortably settled into the fourth round.

She now has two days to rest and prepare for her meeting with Caroline Garcia on Manic Monday, the busiest day of the tournament when all the fourth-round matches, men’s and women’s, are played. Two days of peace and quiet (and baking muffins, her latest hobby) before the pressure is heaped upon her shoulders once again.

She coped ably enough with that yesterday, overpowering the tenacious but inexperienced Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-4, 6-1 but, as is Konta’s way, she is not thinking about pressure. She is trying not to think about anything much at all, other than her game plan 
for defusing Garcia’s serving power on Monday.

“The last time I played her, I lost to her in a very close battle in Indian Wells, 7-6 in the third,” Konta said. “She’s playing very good tennis – I think she made the last eight in Roland Garros so she’s obviously playing with a lot of confidence. It’s another great opportunity to play someone who is in form and who will really challenge me. I’m really looking forward to that.”

Garcia is looking forward to it, too. She dismissed Madison Brengle with relative ease 6-4, 6-3 and is rather hoping that her showdown with Konta will get Centre Court billing as she has never played there before.

The Frenchwoman is ranked No 22 in the world and as a veteran of seven Roland Garros campaigns, she knows what it is like to play at her home grand slam in front of her home crowd. It is, by all accounts, an odd mixture of emotions and not all of them are pleasant. Now that Konta has been installed as the bookies’ favourite for the title, Garcia
knows the pressure will be ramped up even further on Britain’s best.

“There is a pressure and there is also the support,” Garcia said. “Doesn’t matter what you are doing. They are behind you and they are supporting you. Sometimes they give you more energy to go through some problem on court. I don’t know. I mean, her previous match was very complicated and very tough against Vekic.

“Jo’s a great player, great serve, great forehand and moving, wanting to put pressure on the other one. But for sure, it will be a very difficult match for me.”

Konta – naturally – does not see it that way. Whenever pressure, expectation or the future is mentioned, she retreats to her emotional safe place and repeats the same key phrases about enjoying the process. It is the psychological equivalent of sticking her fingers in her ears and singing “la-la-la-la”. But no one minds: these 
little quirks have allowed her to focus on her tennis rather than the consequences and in turn, that has propelled her up the rankings and into the fourth round in SW19.

“I think everyone is a potential winner here,” she burbled. “I’m here to hopefully be involved until the very end but one match at a time. I’m very happy to have come through and I’ll definitely get another battle coming up next.”

She came through yesterday in a brisk 76 minutes and led from the off. A break in the opening game was enough to secure the first set and when she broke again in a marathon, ten-minute game at the start of the second set, she had struck the lethal blow: Sakkari was on her way home.