First she was in tears, then she was smiling and laughing and in the end she was clutching a trophy after being made a lifetime member of Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club.
Welcome to the rollercoaster world of Johanna Konta, whose remarkable story took a most unwelcome twist when the British No1 suffered an injury scare during her Aegon International semi-final against Karolina Pliskova, three days before the start of Wimbledon.
A sharp intake of breath could be heard all around Eastbourne as Konta gingerly picked herself up, limping and grimacing, wounded and surely about to pull out of Wimbledon before even making it to SW19. Having taken a tight first set off the world No17, she was threatening to break back straight away after dropping her serve to trail 3-1 in the second set, 0-40 up on the Czech’s serve and hunting down a forehand in the right corner when she lost her footing and fell heavily.
Pliskova won the rally, saved the next two break points with a couple of aces and held to lead 4-1. Konta ambled back to her chair and burst into tears. Though it was encouraging that she did not call the trainer, there was a long and emotional conversation during the changeover with her coach, Esteban Carril. With the drama on Centre Court building, there was a further delay when a wheelchair user let out a startled cry after another spectator accidentally clipped her chair.
Konta, the world No18, is the first British woman to earn a Wimbledon seeding since Jo Durie in 1984. The 16th seed’s first-round opponent is the dangerous Puerto Rican Mónica Puig, who lost her semi-final 6-2, 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova here. If Konta gets past the world No43, she is projected to face Eugenie Bouchard, Cibulkova and Agnieszka Radwanska before meeting Serena Williams in the last four. But not if she was going to hobble out of contention. Was it her right ankle? Was it her right knee?
An hour and 10 minutes after losing 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 to the big-serving Pliskova, however, she strode into her press conference with a spring in her step – smiling, chirpy, full of life.
“I was fine after that,” Konta said. “The crying happened just because of the shock of the fall. It really did shock me because the way my leg twisted, it was like it was just a bit of a shock. I tend to cry when I get shocked. Don’t shock me, guys.”
So‚ there was no chance of her missing Wimbledon? “Gosh, no, no, no,” Konta said, amazed that the question even had to be asked. “I was only limping straight after just because the way the fall happened. I couldn’t actually get up because my body spasmed up a bit. And then it’s fine.”
Had she been having treatment? “Honestly, guys, I’m fine,” Konta said, like a child who was trying to calm down an overbearing parent.
Panic over, then. Bad weather on Thursday meant that Konta had to play twice on Friday, winning her quarter-final 7-6, 6-4 against Ekaterina Makarova before returning an hour and half later to take on Pliskova, who had seen off Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-3 early on.
The opener went to a tiebreak and Konta blew a 5-2 lead before producing her best tennis, winning it with a backhand drop shot on set point. She would have been the first British woman to reach an Eastbourne final since Virginia Wade lost to Chris Evert 40 years ago if she had held off Pliskova.
Yet the Czech now leads 5-0 in her head-to-head record with Konta, having won all three of their matches on grass, and the 24-year-old is looking strong. She won the Aegon Open in Nottingham two weeks ago.
It is bound to be a tough final against Cibulkova on Saturday afternoon, though. The world No21 trailed Radwanska by a set and a break when they resumed on Friday morning but fought back to win 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in a split three hours and four minutes, the third longest match in Eastbourne history. “I don’t think I was playing good enough today,” Radwanska said. “She was playing really aggressive, good tennis.”
As for Konta, her focus switches to Puig. “She’s been playing well, made semis here,” she said. “It will be a tough match. We played once previously last year on the grass and it was a close match then.”
But not quite as tough, of course, as a Wimbledon semi-final against Williams. “Oh yeah,” Konta said. “Let’s totally talk about the semis.” And she laughed again.
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