Wimbledon: Johanna Konta aiming to impress back on home ground

Johanna Konta: Top British hope.Johanna Konta: Top British hope.
Johanna Konta: Top British hope.
Johanna Konta is, at the very least, doing a good impression of someone unfazed by the pressures and expectations that will accompany her return to Wimbledon.

The British No 1 is preparing for her seventh appearance at the All England Club and does so having made a stunning run to the semi-finals last year.

It was the flourish to a crescendo that began with reaching the fourth round of the US Open in 2016, took in Australian Open semi-final and quarter-final appearances, a Miami Open title and a place in the top 10.

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The quality and conviction of Konta’s game, her ground-strokes zinging to all corners of the court, took the breath away in tight wins over Donna Vekic, Caroline Garcia and, in particular, Simona Halep in the quarter-finals.

For a player who is by her own admission highly strung and who struggled to handle her nerves for much of her career, it was a truly startling transformation. Then suddenly it was over.

Konta won only two more matches in 2017, the tight victories turning into narrow losses, and finished the season on a run of five successive defeats.

This season has been an exercise in trying to repair the damage to her confidence and belief in her game, with mixed results. Ranked fourth after Wimbledon, she is now down at 22 but reached her first final for a year in Nottingham recently.

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A Konta press conference is normally an exercise in relentless positivity, and the prospect of dropping outside the top 50 should she fail to back-up last year’s results this month is not causing any panic – publicly at least.

“I actually do fine with that,” said Konta. “The way I approach the (ranking) points system, every week is an opportunity to gain, every week there’s a chance you will also lose points.

“I know I have plenty of opportunities throughout the year to keep getting better, keep competing hard and to keep trying to earn my way deep into tournaments, which will, in turn, give me ranking points.”

Konta would not be human if she did not feel the tension of the situation to some degree, and there have been telltale signs, be it her furious reaction to what she felt was a bad line call during her Nottingham final loss to Ashleigh Barty or her spiky response to questions about her poor record at the French Open.

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But, whatever happens, Konta will always have last year’s Wimbledon, where she became the first British female semi-finalist since Virginia Wade.

“Through your whole career, you’re going to have some wonderful moments that you will always reflect back on, whether they’re the previous year or a number of years ago. For me, most recently last year grass was a massive period in my career, especially with Wimbledon,” she said.

Like Andy Murray, Konta has the privilege of using the All England Club’s facilities year round.

She said: “I’ve tried to spend as much time there as possible, obviously it’s not always easy with travelling as much as we do. I was there before Nottingham and I popped in and out through pre-season.

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“It doesn’t feel quite like Wimbledon the championships but obviously it’s the same place. It’s always exciting to go back but I’m very lucky, I get to go there whenever I like, it’s my club.”

Unlike Murray, Konta will not be found soaking up the atmosphere on an empty Centre Court, but she does allow herself to dream.

“I’d like to be a grand slam champion, that’s what I work towards and I would definitely love to be holding the Wimbledon trophy,” she said. “But I’m focused on the work to be done and if it’s in the cards for me I’ll be very pleased with that but I’ll definitely be trying my hardest to put it in the cards.”

Konta and Heather Watson, who is another player badly in need of wins on grass after a tough season, are the only direct British entrants into the women’s draw.