A year ago, Johanna Konta got the fright of her life. Walking into her local supermarket, she was faced with a wall of newspapers with her face on the front of every one of them.
Back then, Konta was the toast of the town as she scythed through the rounds at Wimbledon and by the time she had reached the semi-finals, beating Simona Halep to get there, she had reached the dizzy heights of No.4 in the world rankings. This year has not been quite so profitable.
Now down to No.22 in the rankings, she has 780 ranking points to defend in the coming fortnight. And early loss could see her tumble down to the low 30s in the pecking order. That said, her first round opponent is the little known 21-year-old Natalia Vikhlyantseva, the world No.102 from Russia. Barring mental meltdowns or acts of God, Konta should get through that one safely. And, ever the positive thinker, she is carrying with her all the best bits of her memories from last year.
“I think more than anything is to trust that when I’m playing at my highest level, the level I want to be playing at, I can really, really make an impact in big tournaments,” she said. “I think that’s a massive confidence boost for any player.
“But I think also specifically to here, it was how well I was able to keep a good perspective. I really enjoyed last year’s Championships for giving me the opportunity to be at home. I think I really took a lot of confidence in those home comforts. I think that took the edge off everything else that can go around any big tournament.”
Of course, the biggest name in Wimbledon is Serena Williams, the seven-time champion and the holder of 23 grand slam singles titles. To compare the mighty Serena to Konta, a woman trying to reignite her career and cling on to her place among the elite, is a little farfetched but they share a common bond: both have their axes to grind with the drug testers.
A couple of weeks ago, the USADA testers turned up at Williams’s house, unannounced and out of the one-hour window that every player must agree to be available for the drug testers, and found the former world No.1 was not at home. Refusing to leave the house until they had found their prey, they stayed put. Eventually they were forced to leave – sans sample – but Williams was furious.
The incident constituted a missed test and if a player misses three tests in a 12-month period, it is regarded a doping violation and is subject to sanction.
Williams was unavailable for comment yesterday as, according to whispers around the All England Club corridors, she had gone to watch the polo with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. As you do on the eve of a grand slam. But Konta was more than ready to pick up the baton and wave it in the general direction of the drug testers on her behalf.
Konta, too, missed a test back in March. It was a simple mathematical glitch: she was travelling from London to California, there is an eight hour time difference between the two locations and by the time she had landed in America and registered her change of address, it was already the appointed hour in London when she would have been available for a drugs test had she been there. She wasn’t, the testers turned up and it was recorded as a strike against her.
“It’s important to have integrity in this sport, but I do feel there’s definitely room for improvement in the way athletes are sometimes treated,” she said.
“It’s quite a violating process: People come to your home. You’re in your pyjamas. You get woken out of bed, pulled out of bed, told to take down your pants, give your arm, pee in a cup. It’s an invasive process.
“Again, it’s something that comes with the territory, but again, I don’t think it’s something I will miss when I retire.”
At least she is back at home now, in a time zone she knows and loves. And she is unlikely to meet another drug tester until she loses in SW19, which is just that little bit of extra motivation as she tries to repeat the feats of last year.