This article, written by Annabel Croft, first appeared in the Times Newspaper 11th July 2019
Roger Federer, a master of media relations, once said that he never treats the press as the enemy. Johanna Konta does on occasions, as we saw during that tense exchange with a British reporter after her Wimbledon quarter-final defeat on Tuesday, and what a divisive subject it has proven to be. It is understandable that a player can be highly emotional after a tough loss and it is difficult to think clearly, but it is advisable not to become embroiled in an argument with a journalist during a press conference even if you are irritated. You are walking a tightrope if you take someone on in that setting. What is the point? Players have to realise that when they compete in grand slam tournaments, there will be journalists in attendance who do not cover tennis all year round. They need to accept that there will perhaps be more blunt and probing questions like this than usual. Through her tetchy response, Konta was trying to put the journalist in his place. She was, in a way, patronising towards him. Maybe he could have worded the question slightly differently, but the general point of his query about her failure to acknowledge elements of her own performance was legitimate. Something about it clearly riled her, perhaps because there was an element of truth to it. Most players who lose prefer not to immediately come out and say, “I played shit”. because that can be perceived as disrespectful towards the opponent. Credit must be given to the victor, of course. However, Konta finds it very hard to publicly acknowledge any failure on her part whatsoever. This is likely through her psychological training, as many therapists feel it is a good thing to deflect negativity so you do not blame yourself and dwell on defeats. Konta operates like a machine, everything very structured and routine-based. She likes to be in control, particularly of her coaching team. But when the computer malfunctions, she can fall apart quite quickly. It may have been a better idea to let out some emotion on the court rather than during her press conference, when she has no control over the questions that are asked. Tennis is all about pressure, and this was a massive opportunity for Konta in the quarter-finals against Barbora Strycova, the world No 54 from Czech Republic. But the weight of expectation on the shoulders of British players on Centre Court, with the nation watching, is so heavy, and it definitely affected Konta as the favourite on Tuesday. I always think of her as such a solid and aggressive player from the back of the court, but she quickly unravelled when Strycova started slicing and dicing. She mixed up the mind of Konta, who became rather jittery when she had no pace to work with. Ultimately, though, you have to look back overall at the past two and a half months for Konta. Her level has improved significantly compared to the start of Great Britain’s Fed Cup play-off against Kazakhstan in April, when she was all over the place on the court and being wound up by a visiting supporter with a trombone. The key for her now is how she responds after her Wimbledon exit. The most difficult thing in sport is to pick yourself up from defeats and move forward without any lingering mental baggage. She will need some time off to settle down and put this behind her. I hope that she can build on what has been a really positive few months. Konta’s relentless work ethic will help. She has a good coaching set-up in place, led by Frenchman Dimitri Zavialoff. Her aggressive game is well-suited to American hard courts, and the variety she has introduced – chipped returns, drop shots and slice backhands – will stand her in good stead as this is something that is being increasingly used by players, such as world No 1 Ashleigh Barty. Konta is not someone who is ever content to stand still. She is always hungry to improve and wants to keep moving forward. And considering that she has defeated every active grand slam singles champion, with the exception of Maria Sharapova, during her career, then she must believe she win a major title in the future.
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