Australian born, proudly British, thriving down under.
“Actually I am a tri-citizen, I’ve got a Hungarian passport as well. I’m pretty much the female version of Jason Bourne.”
Like fictional action-hero Bourne, Johanna Konta is proving herself capable of stunts to wow an audience.
Now an Australian Open semi-finalist, this Eastbourne resident has practically doubled her career prize money in under two weeks and left Australia wondering how they let her get away.
Konta’s career has taken her from Sydney to Eastbourne – via Gijon, Texas and Barcelona. Now, her own all-action production is gathering pace and even Bourne might not be able to handle her.
Turned away for being too good
Konta’s run makes her the first British woman to reach the last four of a Grand Slam since Jo Durie in 1983 and her formative years offered hope of a rise to stardom.
“Her parents brought her to my academy in 2005 but I said she’s too good, too strong and told her where she needed to go to train next,” said Justin Sherring, director of the Weybridge Tennis Academy.
Konta – 14 at the time – had just touched down in the UK after her Hungarian parents moved so father Gabor could take a job at the Marriot Hotel in London’s Docklands.
Eastbourne became home – and still is – but spells in academies in Spain and the US showed Konta’s will to move around in order to hone her talent.
“The first thing that struck me was she was really bubbly and enthusiastic,” added Sherring, who eventually coached Konta for a spell in 2010. “I’m not surprised at what she has done. Top players have that something different about them. She is incredibly passionate about the sport.”
Sacrifice, self analysis – and some What’s App
Konta – now British number one – has stated she once made her elder half-sister cry during a game of Monopoly.
Behind the humility she shows during warm interviews on court sits an obsession with becoming a better player.
“The only difference between try and triumph is a little oomph” reads a quote on her Twitter account.
Form has undoubtedly picked up since her LTA funding was cut last year- perhaps showing the defiance that burns inside Konta – who said the move “jeopardised” her career.
And self analysis at the highest level of sport can unearth tough realities. In attempting to battle anxiety during matches, Konta appointed a mental coach by the name of Juan Coto, who aids her with sessions via Skype or What’s App.
“You need to be humble, and to accept that a mental coach can help you,” Coto told the BBC. “You also need to be courageous to try different ways of thinking and behaving.”
Building a tight network
All of these things – the right coach, the right base, the right mindset – take time to harness. At 24, Konta has years left to make them pay.
It is reported her boyfriend is hitting partner Kether Clouder, offering a friendship, support and perhaps much needed distraction from the game during long spells on Tour.
“I think the package around her has really helped her to be much more in control of what she wants to do on the court,” said Fed Cup team captain Judy Murray. “You can go out and do relatively normal things and I think that helps you to stay much more emotionally stable.”
Konta’s Twitter account offers plenty of images of family gatherings.
Her father Gabor – who now works at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, in East Grinstead – and mum Gabriella, a dentist, have refused to speak to media during the Australian Open. A clear focus on staying humble, focused and private seems to run though Team Konta.
She’s Eastbourne and they love it
Konta does not own a home, she says if she did she would happily remortgage it to see one of her music loves – U2.
But the lack of a mortgage does not weaken her ties with Eastbourne, where a pride in her professional exploits exists among the community in the south-coast seaside resort.
Groups of school girls attended the Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club to watch her quarter-final win over China’s Zhang Shuai, while the local newspaper – The Eastbourne Hearald – led their website with news of her win.
And Konta still relies on a local dealership to supply her Peugeot.
If not playing, enjoying her mum’s cooking in Eastbourne or being honed by coaches Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia in Gijon, northern Spain, Konta will probably be found enjoying ice cream and listening to music.
“I play tennis during the day. Would love to go to concerts most nights. I take gelato very seriously,” reads her Twitter bio.
Van Morrison’s music is a particular love and in what seems anything but a standard relationship for a finely-tuned athlete, her passion for ice cream has led to some sponsorship from an Italian manufacturer.
A return to Australia? A flash in the pan?
The stunning run in Melbourne contrasts Konta’s previous Grand Slam performances, where she has five first-round exits in eight attempts.
But this is no one-off display according to Sherring, who says his former pupil is “where she deserves to be”.
“She looks like she believes in what she is,” he added. “She just looks much more confident, winning makes you feel good.”
The Sydney Morning Herald has been left asking how Konta slipped away from Australia, referencing she had spent “three years in English fog” by the time she reached 11th in the world junior rankings in 2008.
Australia would love to have her back.
“My home is Great Britain,” Konta told one reporter. “It has been for a long time now, over a decade. That’s where my heart is.”
Hard luck, Australia. Great Britain is closing in on being home to a first female Grand Slam winner since 1977.