Johanna Konta believes she is better equipped to deal with sustained success as she prepares to fly the British flag again at Wimbledon.
With Andy Murray making a tentative comeback in doubles and Kyle Edmund out of form and hampered by a knee problem, Konta is clearly Britain’s best hope for home singles success.
A run to the French Open semi-finals rekindled memories of her finest hour, when she made the last four at Wimbledon two years ago and climbed to No 4 in the world rankings.
Konta currently sits 14 places below that but her career trajectory of peaks and troughs appears to be heading firmly in the right direction again.
Her Wimbledon success was, if not the only catalyst, the tipping point for a sudden decline that saw her lose her final five matches of 2017. After losing in the second round at SW19 last summer, Konta’s ranking plummeted to 50.
At the US Open a couple of months later, Konta opened up on the feelings of burnout that led to the derailment, saying: “There’s got to be an underlying purpose and happiness for what you do, and once that starts to get drained a bit, that’s when you start to think, ‘What am I actually doing? How am I meant to be doing this?’”
Now the 28-year-old once again finds herself positioned among the contenders at her home grand slam, having unexpectedly flourished on her least successful surface.
Crucially, Konta feels she knows what went wrong last time and, hopefully, how to avoid it in the future. “That wasn’t down to one specific match,” she explained at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham last month.
“I think it was a culmination of mismanagement of myself and my energy levels more than anything.
“I’d like to think, with my team, we’re managing me slightly differently. I think I’ve also become a little older, a little wiser and hopefully I’m managing myself better as well.
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that will never happen again because I think that’s ridiculous, there’s always the chance for it to happen, but I’d like to think I’d be better equipped to manage it.”
One area where Konta is certainly better equipped is the different facets to her game. Credit must be given to both Konta and her coach of eight months, Frenchman Dimitri Zavialoff, pictured inset, who has convinced her to trust in tactics other than simply drilling the ball.
Zavialoff’s philosophy of empowering the player has certainly worked with Konta, whose net play and drop shots were a revelation on clay, along with a rejuvenated serve and the fiercely hit groundstrokes that will always be her X-factor.
The British No 1 stopped short of declaring she is playing the best tennis of her career but sees no reason why she cannot be just as effective on grass, a much more natural surface for her game.
She said: “I’m enjoying the tennis that I’m playing and I’m feeling very good in the things that I’m working on and the general overview of how I’m working. That more than anything I feel very good about. I definitely feel that the things I’m working on can have just as much effect on the grass.”
Konta’s semi-final defeat by Marketa Vondrousova in Paris showed she is not yet the finished article. The anxiety that rarely bubbles too far below the surface showed as her trust in her game wavered and she lost in straight sets having served for both of them.
The work she has done with psychologists has taught her to focus on the positive aspects of matches, no matter what the outcome, and Konta insisted she has not spent time dwelling on what might have been.
Whether she can put herself in the same position at Wimbledon remains to be seen, but she has certainly put herself in the conversation.
“I look forward to Wimbledon every year,” she said. “I get to be at home more than anything, so there’s a lot of normality, more so than during any other tournament, so in that sense, it’s actually quite stress-free. That’s what I focus on, that’s what I take energy from.
“Playing a good level now doesn’t guarantee anything in the subsequent tournaments that I play, but it can only go towards hopefully enabling me to play at a good level again and hopefully that will bring me opportunities to come through some great matches again.”
Disappointingly, Konta was the only British woman who secured direct entry to Wimbledon this year, although Heather Watson, Harriet Dart and Katie Swan all received late entries.
Konta, the 19th seed, starts her campaign against qualifier Ana Bogdan tomorrow. Konta beat the Romanian over three sets on clay in Rabat in April. Watson is first on Court 12 this morning against American Catherine McNally.