Ed White: Steady progress sees Johanna Konta become firm favourite both on and off court

Johanna Konta reacts during her match against Maria Sakkari on day five at Wimbledon. Picture: John Walton/PA
Johanna Konta reacts during her match against Maria Sakkari on day five at Wimbledon. Picture: John Walton/PA
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As Johanna Konta clenched her fist at gaining passage into the second week of Wimbledon for the first time, she was backed by a crescendo of noise rarely heard in British tennis.

It was not so much a noise of appreciation, but one of hope too.

Having dispatched Greece’s Maris Sakkari in a convincing 6-4 6-1 victory on Court One, Konta proved her previous troubles on grass had become inconsequential. For perhaps the first time, it seemed the Wimbledon crowd had truly taken the Australian-born player into their hearts just as she has adopted Britain when she since switched allegiances five years ago.

It has been an evolving process. And one which, following four defeats in five matches on the grass courts of SW19, has taken time to gather pace.

Five years ago, hopes of a first British winner on the famous lawns since Virginia Wade in 1977 centred around the then preconscious talents of Laura Robson and Heather Watson. Both were advancing in the women’s game at a rate of knots having shown their credentials with slam glories in the girl’s singles.

At that point, Konta was still acclimatising to the added attention of a British player at Wimbledon. In her first appearance, she lost out in a marathon first round encounter to American seed Christina McHale. One year later, Konta was still very much on the fringe of British dreams.

SUNDAY BEST: Johanna Konta arrives for a training session on day seven at Wimbledon. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

SUNDAY BEST: Johanna Konta arrives for a training session on day seven at Wimbledon. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

That time, she ran into 16th seed Jelena Jankovic – in the same year Robson reached the second Monday for the only time in her career to date.

As Robson’s career has nosedived through the pain of a wrist injury and Watson’s progress continues to rankle with promise and then disappointment, Konta’s has been transformed.

She has developed a fearless mental approach, depicting a woman that made a risky decision to put her career under the microscope some five years ago.

That fearlessness was evident in Wednesday’s second round when Konta overcame Donna Vekic 10-8 in the deciding set.

As Robson’s career has nosedived through the pain of a wrist injury and Watson’s progress continues to rankle with promise and then disappointment, Konta’s has been transformed.

The YP’s Ed White.

There was a steeliness on Friday, too, as Konta gave her most convincing display at the championships to secure a first berth in the second week.

It was an assured dissection of Sakkari’s game. A ploy to work out the weaknesses and a brutality to bring home her advantage – all to the delight of a packed Court One.

As impressive as her performance on court, so was her duties in the press room afterwards.

There was a quiet confidence when addressing what could be.

Konta has been installed as the market favourite to win the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday.

However, the added attention does not appear to be bothering her. Given Konta’s past struggles at SW19, it is perhaps inconceivable that she has been earmarked as the likely winner, albeit in tentative fashion, to land the famous plate this weekend.

Nonetheless, Konta has increasingly shown her ability to get the better of those around her at the top of the game, including beating world No 1 Angelique Kerber at Eastbourne last month.

In a draw now containing just one previous winner, that of 37-year-old Venus Williams, the women’s side is unpredictable.

“I have to say, everyone in the draw is in with a chance of taking the title,” she said. “Favourites come and go. They change daily, almost.”

Yet, Konta will be hoping her words do not prove truthful. For the more she performs, the greater the clamour towards her favourites’ tag will intensify.