Thursday, February 2News That Matters

Johanna Konta says she was ‘picked on’ with questions over Wimbledon defeat

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Wimbledon 2019 on the BBC
Venue: All England Club Dates: 1-14 July
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Johanna Konta reacted angrily when questioned on her big-point mentality after another golden Grand Slam opportunity went begging.

The British number one lost 7-6 (7-5) 6-1) to unseeded Barbora Strycova in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

She hit a huge 33 unforced errors in a match in which she was the overwhelming favourite, mirroring a similar showing in the French Open semis.

“I don’t think you need to pick on me in a harsh way,” she told one reporter.

Presented with examples of shots that had gone wrong, such as a smash at the net and a double fault, and asked if she perhaps could have coped better on big points, she replied: “Is that in your professional tennis opinion?” before saying the questioning was “disrespectful and patronising”.

“I’m a professional competitor who did her best today, and that’s all there is to that,” she added.

Konta had put in battling performances against top-10 players in her two previous matches, coming through in three sets against Sloane Stephens and Petra Kvitova, and has much to celebrate from these championships.

On the back of a successful clay-court season as well, she is set to return to the top 15 in the rankings for the first time since March 2018.

She has won admiration for a calmer on-court demeanour since hiring new coach Dimitri Zavialoff late last year, but the manner of her defeat from a winning position on Tuesday and the spiky nature of the news conference afterwards are reminiscent of the old days.

After last year’s first-round exit from the French Open, she accused journalists of making her job more difficult with their criticism.

The mantra versus the mistakes

Konta is well known for speaking about the positives in her losses, even if it sometimes looks a bit of an effort to say it and look upbeat at the same time.

After this defeat, when she had led 4-1 before crumbling and missing out on a fourth Grand Slam semi-final, she repeated the same “no regrets” mantra that came after the defeat by unseeded Marketa Vondrousova at the French Open last month.

That straight-set loss to the teenager – which came after the Briton had held three set points in the first set – stopped her reaching her first Grand Slam final, with many pundits saying that had been her best chance of a major title.

Against Strycova, former world number one John McEnroe said it was disappointing to see Konta “fall to pieces” when she had been a break up early on.

But Konta, whose forehand broke down when targeted by Strycova, gave much of the credit to the Czech for “playing very well” rather than explaining why her serve that was so dominant in previous rounds dropped to a level where she won just 51% of first-serve points.

Nor did she explain why she sent two forehands long and a backhand wide to allow Strycova to break back in the first set, when as former world number one Tracy Austin put it on BBC television, “the irritating streaks of her game started kicking in”.

“I think I’ve played a great tournament,” Konta said. “Obviously I would have liked to have played three more matches, won three more matches. But I really feel that even including today, I can take a lot away from these 10 days.

“The players that I’ve played and beaten, also lost to today, I think overall there’s a lot I can be proud of and take from it.”

Was the news conference questioning unfair?

Former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli said Konta had been “bullied” by the questioning at the news conference, while journalists would say they are just doing their jobs by asking what went wrong in a match.

“[News conferences] can be extremely difficult,” Bartoli told the BBC’s Today at Wimbledon. “It is part of your job, you just have to sort of say exactly what she said – I am a professional tennis player, I tried my best today.

“Obviously us as analysers, we’re trying just to figure it out what happened exactly, why she lost that match and why the other one won it.

“But as a tennis player you just can’t allow yourself to be bullied like this in a press conference from someone who probably never picked up a racquet himself and never been on Centre Court, to be frank.”

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Konta ‘will have to work on her game’

Konta reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open in 2016, losing to Angelique Kerber, while her bid to reach the Wimbledon final in 2017 was halted in the last four by seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.

A slump followed and she split with coach Wim Fissette after that Wimbledon semi-final before hiring Maria Sharapova’s former coach Michael Joyce at the start of the 2018 season.

But she reached just one final last year, losing to Ashleigh Barty in Nottingham, and her ranking dropped to as low as 50th.

Under Zavialoff she has turned things round, reaching two clay finals this year before the stunning run at the French Open – a tournament where she had previously never gone beyond the first round.

She continued her form on grass with some excellent displays at the All England Club but once again finds herself facing questions about how she can take the next step up and end the 42-year wait for a British women’s singles Grand Slam champion.

“I think now if she wants to improve and actually go further in a Grand Slam and maybe to first of all be in a final, she will have to sit down with her coach and see what happened today in that match,” Bartoli said.

“She will have to work on her game because I think those kind of players with the slices and the lack of speed are really disturbing her, so that is something she will have to work on.”

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