Johanna Konta heads into uncharted territory at Wimbledon’s top table

Great Britain's Johanna Konta reacts during the semi final

There is no time for Johanna Konta to dwell on her narrow failure to become the first British woman to reach an Eastbourne final since 1976, not if she wants to reach the second round of Wimbledon for the first time.

After surviving an injury scare during her fraught 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 defeat to Karolina Pliskova in their Aegon International semi-final on Friday, the British No1 recuperated at her family home – in Eastbourne – before making her way to SW19 yesterday, where she is seeded 16th and due to face the dangerous Mónica Puig in the first round.

If she allows herself a moment or two to relax, Konta might watch Hungary take on Belgium in the football on Sunday night. Her Hungarian father, Gabor, has already reserved his spot on the sofa. Indeed he has been so swept up by his team’s progress at Euro 2016 that he was listening to their 3-3 draw with Portugal on Wednesday while his daughter was beating Petra Kvitova. “I’ll probably know what’s going on even if I’m not watching,” Konta said.

However her main focus now is how to handle Puig’s awkward challenge. Although Konta is the first British woman to earn a Wimbledon seeding since Jo Durie in 1984, her draw is tough. Puig, the world No43, has already reached two semi-finals on grass this summer, in Eastbourne and Nottingham, and Konta will need to be at her best to contain the improving 22-year-old.

The world No18’s route to a potential final could also feature daunting matches against Eugenie Bouchard, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Belinda Bencic and Serena Williams, which is nobody’s idea of fun. Then again, making history is rarely straightforward.

“I guess I’m healthy so my prospect is that I’m going to be playing, which I’m most looking forward to,” Konta said. “Another thing that’s for certain is I’m playing a very good player in the first round who has done very well on the grass these last number of weeks and this year has played some very, very good tennis. Going into the match it will be 50-50 and I will go in there and try to get it as much in my favour as possible.”

The good news is that Konta’s dramatic fall during her defeat to Pliskova was not as serious as it looked at first. The 25-year-old was limping badly after slipping in the fifth game of the second set and she was in tears during the changeover. A major story was brewing – but only briefly. Konta was in high spirits later on, laughing off fears that she was a doubt for Wimbledon. It was just a spasm in her right leg.

There is no reason for concern on the fitness front and it has been a good week for Konta. Her third-round win over Kvitova, twice the Wimbledon champion, was a fine achievement and she rose a place in the seeding after Victoria Azarenka’s withdrawal with a right knee injury, granting her access to the prestigious locker room reserved for the top players at the All England Club. “I kind of felt like I had been upgraded like an airline upgrade,” she said. “Like I got upgraded to business.”

Durie has warned Konta that newcomers can sometimes face a frosty reception in the executive washroom but mind games do not interest her. “Those sort of things only affect people that let it affect them,” she said. “I say ‘good morning’ to everyone, ‘goodbye’, ‘how are you’, ‘thank you’ – very simple things. But I also take a lot of pride in my work. I’m mainly here to work and do my best in my profession so I try not to spend any of my time thinking about mind games.  

Although the 25-year-old was born in Sydney, she had never heard of sledging an opponent before, a blow for any Australians who want to claim her as one of their own. Konta has neither delivered a sledge nor been on the receiving end of one. “I don’t intend to do so either,” she said.

“I’m so involved in my own affairs on court. That’s what I’m there for, I’m there to play tennis.”

Powered by article was written by Jacob Steinberg, for The Observer on Saturday 25th June 2016 22.30 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010