Wimbledon 2017: Johanna Konta and Heather Watson shine
This week, Konta has been bombarded with questions about the pressure of being a home grown contender at this year’s tournament – surely it must be suffocating? But Konta’s mind does not work like that; she will not allow it to work like that. And that is why, when the chips were down, she managed to squeak past Donna Vekic yesterday, the Croat with the thumping serve who beat her in the Nottingham final just a couple of weeks ago.
It took three hours and 10 minutes to do it but Konta eventually set foot in the third round with a 7-6, 4-6, 10-8 win. But just do not call it a breakthrough for Britain’s leading light.
“I’m seeing it as I get to be still involved in the championships,” she said. “I will be working very hard to continue being involved in the event. I don’t really believe in breakthroughs or turning points and I don’t look at my career in that sense. I look at it as continuous building and continuous work in every single match and practice that I have.”
And that is how Konta keeps herself calm during the pressure moments: don’t think about the future, don’t think about the consequences, just stay in the moment and the steam will not be able to build in the pressure cooker.
Even in the seemingly endless third set, all 79 minutes of it, when Vekic was matching Konta ace for ace (five apiece) and break points were as rare as hen’s teeth, she would not allow herself to contemplate anything other than the ball in front of her (apart, that is, from the bizarre distraction of the swarm of flying ants that had taken over the All England Club).
“I look to just keep a good perspective,” she said. “Appreciate the level that my opponent was playing. Acknowledge that some of the things weren’t completely under my control. I think that also reinforced for me the good things I was doing and trusting in those things. That just keeps my mindset quite clear, and in turn light, or that’s kind of how I describe it.”
In theory, the mindset could be a little lighter tomorrow when she faces Maria Sakkari, the world No.101 from Greece who beat Kristyna Pliskova, the twin sister of the much higher ranked Karolina. A win there would put her into the second week of The Championships so then, surely, the pressure will begin to mount.
“I guess I keep sounding like a broken record, but for me, pressure is a very self-imposed thing,” she said. “I’m approaching this event like I am every other event. I’m coming here to do the best that I can, to compete the best I can. I think I showed that today, like I did in my other round.”
Konta has her methods and Heather Watson has hers. She, too, is into the third round after a very swift and impressive 6-0, 6-4 thumping of Anastasija Sevastova, the world No.19 from Latvia. Watson was very, very good from the start – the first set took 19 minutes – but, then again, she has been here before.
Two years ago, she took on Serena Williams in the third round and came with a whisker of beating her. Tomorrow she takes on Williams’s friend Victoria Azarenka, the former world No.1. Azarenka is only four matches into her comeback from maternity leave (she gave birth to baby Leo in December) but yesterday she walloped Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-3 as if her year off had never happened.
Not only is Azarenka Williams’s pal (and is willing to offer baby tips should the American want them), she is also one of the very few women who has been able to cause Williams serious trouble on a tennis court. Watson, then, knows she has a battle on her hands.
“I look forward to playing her,” Watson said, having not taken a set from Belarusian in four attempts. “I know she has only just come back, but I expect her to be playing really well because I know she will have put in the hours and the work.”
Reaching the second week of a grand slam (she is not fussy about which one) has been a lifelong goal. To do it here, Watson is going to have to play the match of her life. Pressure? Not so much. She was off to watch Love Island by way of preparation.
“When I do have time to relax, I try and make the most of it,” she said. “It’s easy watching Love Island at the moment. It’s so good.”