Sky's the limit for Johanna Konta says tennis legend

For a woman who could be on the verge of something special, Johanna Konta looks and sounds remarkably relaxed.

Johanna Konta  signs autographs for young fans after winning her fourth-round match against Ekaterina Makarova  at the Australian open. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Johanna Konta signs autographs for young fans after winning her fourth-round match against Ekaterina Makarova at the Australian open. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Arriving late 10 minutes for her post-match media commitments, she was hugely apologetic. She had been delayed trying to help her sister change her nephew’s nappy. The nephew, Ollie, is nine weeks old and organising his underwear arrangements sounded far more complicated than blitzing Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4 yesterday.

Konta was controlled, aggressive and accurate, just as she has been since she arrived in Australia. She has now won 18 sets on the bounce in the land of sun and, with every set that passes, she seems to be getting better. That is fortunate as now she faces the ultimate test in her sport: she must play Serena Williams for a place in the semi-finals. When that match-up was announced after Konta’s win, the crowd oohed and aahed in anticipation.

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“That is Serena’s aura, that is what Serena has earned from everything she has achieved in the sport,” Konta said. “The way people speak about her is according to her achievements in the sport. Though it was quite funny [when they reacted].

“She is the greatest player to be playing right now. So she really is someone who has pretty much done it all in our sport and very few people get to do that in whatever discipline they do. Because she has made herself such an icon I think she has that effect on people.

“I really am looking forward to playing her. I have never been on court with her, so I am looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to competing, and really going out there and trusting in my own system and trusting in the good things that I bring to the court.”

Konta grew up watching Williams. Here was a tennis idol and Konta wanted to be one of those when she grew up. She may not have achieved that goal yet, but there are many who believe that she has a real chance to beat Williams tomorrow. And, if she does, the draw will be blown wide open. Then anything is possible.

Martina Navratilova, who knows a thing or two about winning major titles, has watched with interest as Britain’s No 1 has motored up the rankings from a standing start of No 147 in June 2015 to No 9 this week.

“She just keeps improving,” Navratilova said. “You never know how much people will keep improving, but she’s 
definitely going in the right direction. Most of all, she looks the part. She looks like she belongs. She feels she belongs here. She’s not an imposter and she’s got the weapons to go with it.

“She’s improved her movement, her shot selection, cleaned up the middle- ground game. Everything has improved on her part. If she keeps that belief – you have to almost talk your way into it. She’s never beaten Serena Williams. But that full confidence can do wonders for you and she’s backed it up with tennis, so impressive.”

Konta has never played Serena, but she has played and beaten Venus Williams. The two sisters are not identical in style, but taking on the huge power game will not daunt her or take her by surprise. After all, Konta’s game is all about big hitting and aggression.

“Whoever gets on the offense first will probably win that point,” Navratilova predicted. “Just try to use controlled aggression, pick your spots and, most of all, hit with conviction. It almost doesn’t matter where you’re going to hit the shot as long as you commit to it. If you commit to it, whether it’s down the line or cross court, you’re good. If you don’t commit to it, you hit down the line or cross court, you’re going to miss and it’s not going to be hit so well, so just commit to the shot.

“She’s worked her way up and she is going to be here for a while. If she stays healthy, the sky is the limit.”

The numbers reinforce Navratilova’s belief. The statisticians have done their sums and rank the Konta and Williams joint seventh in the tournament for their shotmaking – 23 per cent of their shots have been winners. Williams has a few more forehand winners, Konta is better on the backhand. But it is in the unforced errors that Konta wins out: only 17 per cent of her shots are errors while 26 per cent of 
Williams’s attempts go awry. Konta, then, plays a cleaner game than Williams.

That might be enough to get her the win tomorrow but we will have to wait and see. But in a tournament of shock results, nothing seems impossible any more.