Johanna Konta is leaving behind a stressful end to 2016, which included the death last month of her personal adviser, Juan Coto, followed quickly by an amicable split with her tennis coach, Esteban Carril.
In conversation with her at the National Tennis Centre on Thursday it was clear she is handling the trauma with the sort of fortitude that has contributed to her extraordinary rise through the rankings over the past 18 months.
Konta, who recently broke into the world’s top 10, does not separate the personal from the professional and has always been tied firmly to her emotions. It has been her burgeoning skill of controlling pressure and challenges that has marked her progress, however.
Now she is moving on. It is likely that the 36-year-old Belgian Wim Fissette will be her new coach when she arrives in Melbourne for the first major of the year in January. They are heading for Nice on Monday to continue their early work and Konta sounded as if she is leaning towards a permanent appointment, although there have been plenty of other coaches interested in what is one of the prize jobs on the WTA Tour. Fissette, one of the most respected young coaches in the business, has worked with Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka, among others.
“Number one consideration is always availability,” Konta said. “Then it’s about – for me and I guess for every player – the connection with the coach, like with any relationship how you work together, the chemistry on court. So it was about finding that and he was the first coach I trialled. Things are going well.
“I wanted to go where there’s a bunch of players congregating and that was the place to be, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon.
“I am trialling a new set-up and things are going well. Nothing’s been made official yet but I am having a really good pre-season. Everyone’s integrating well and – if you follow me on Instagram – I went trampolining. I’ve been rock climbing. Has anyone actually appreciated the things I’ve done?”
This was not distraction therapy, it seems, but a genuine programme to improve her athleticism, which is considerable, given her teenage years as a track athlete and her obvious ability on the tennis court.
“We were trying to coordinate my body, basically,” she said. “I am trying to get more coordinated and more in tune, and so my fitness trainer, she was thinking of creative ways where we could make things fun and we were basically doing it every Wednesday to break up the week a bit.”
The split with Carril took many by surprise – coming as it did after the shock death of Coto, who has been so important to Konta in her personal development away from the game. However, the player and the coach would seem to have had a calm and mutually acceptable discussion about it.
“I think it was more sudden than gradual,” she said, “but not in an abrupt way. It was a mutual decision and the best decision for both of us moving forward. I’m sure I’ll be seeing him around. Tennis is a small world. I think, for now, he’s probably enjoying being at home with his family. He’s got two children now.”
Konta, speaking publicly about Coto for the first time, said: “I know that Juan would be supportive of me continuously improving [her personal and emotional side] because it’s more than just tennis, it’s about my life. He’s still very much a part of everything that I do, everything that I will continue to do in this sport and this career, and most likely beyond that as well. He has gifted me with an incredible amount of tools and habits that I still to this day am looking to improve, every single day.”
As for Fissette’s lack of years, she laughed and said: “No, he’s not that old but he’s been on the Tour for quite some time, so I’m definitely looking forward to being a sponge and absorbing as much of his experience and knowledge through the years. He’s been with Kim as well, and some of the players I’m currently playing against. Again, it’s early days. I think there’s only so much that you can feel out in the training block and then the year starts. That’s when you really feel how you get along.”
Did she know him before?
“Not well but I had seen him before. I had obviously played Vika in Miami, so I saw him then, and I’ve seen him randomly a couple of times throughout the year.”
Konta, like most players, needs comfort and understanding in her coaching set-up, unlike the few who crave firm direction. “I am a firm believer – and this applies to every single team member – that I’m looking for a partner. I like working together harmoniously. I like being involved in my own development, having my input and basically, yeah, a partnership more than anything.”
Rather than a dictatorship …
Back on the road quickly after her training stint in Nice – at Patrick Mouratoglou’s new academy– Konta heads for tournaments in Shenzhen then Sydney before the Australian Open.
This time last year she could hardly have imagined she would be arriving in the country of her birth as No10 in the world – but she has surprised herself, and others, many times in her career.
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