Konta: ‘I’m living my dream. I feel humble'

Making nice: Johanna Konta has been praised for her mental toughness on court.

She has put her brilliant progress down to intensive physical and mental training. But does this risk turning out champions who win medals not just for sporting prowess but also for dullness?

The British rarely get to celebrate a sporting victory. So it is small wonder that Johanna Konta‘s winning streak at the Australian Open has created such a buzz.

Coming from nowhere to reach the tournament’s very last stages, slaying heavyweights in the process, the British tennis player has got people’s attention: the media, previously uninterested in her, are now doing their best to work out the key to her success.

Time and again, her mental toughness has been praised. For this, Konta credits her ‘mind guru’ Juan Coto, with whom she talks regularly while touring. Coto, meanwhile, has put her triumph down to ‘the stability of her environment… the routines’. Other than that, Konta has been reluctant to speak about her personal life.

In other words, Konta got where she is through discipline and relentless training. No surprises there: tennis is now so competitive that only players who have dedicated themselves to the sport from a young age are likely to get far. Only sensible people make it big. Social life takes a back seat.

The problem, some argue, is that this lifestyle makes for rather dull people. In 2013, Latvian player Ernests Gulbis voiced the thoughts of many tennis fans when he lamented that the top four men in the game are ‘boring’. As the sport becomes a more serious business, players have less time to hang out off court, and their relationships become defined by politeness and a desire to appear ‘professional’.

This is a far cry from the 1970s and 80s, when tennis was ruled by big characters: for instance John McEnroe, who had a tendency to swear at the umpire, and Ilie Nastase, who once walked onto a Wimbledon court with an umbrella in his hand. Others expressed their personalities off court: Billie Jean King, for example, was a tireless campaigner for women’s rights. The great thing about these players is that there was more to them than their talent.

Konta has been brilliant at the Australian Open – nobody can deny that. But how much can we care about the achievement when we know so little about the person?

All work and no play

Not much, say some. We admire talented athletes, but we really get behind the ones we find charming, engaging. If Konta is unwilling to tell us anything about herself other than that she works hard and likes Taylor Swift, it is difficult to stay interested – British or not. And if players in general are becoming less outgoing, that’s tennis’s loss.

What nonsense, say others. If I want to watch zany characters interacting, I’ll tune in to Eastenders. Good tennis, as with all sports, is about performing incredible feats of physical prowess – and setting an example in the process. That is just what Konta has done.

You Decide

  1. Who is your favourite sports player, and why?
  2. Why do unpleasant people make for entertaining viewing? (Watch the video of John McEnroe under Become An Expert.)

Activities

  1. Imagine you have just won Wimbledon. What would you say? Prepare a one-minute speech, then give it to the class.
  2. Imagine you are on the jury for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year competition. Who, of any current sports professionals, would you give the prize to? Prepare a three-minute speech explaining your choice, then give it to the class.

Some People Say...

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

Heywood Hale Bround

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t agree that all tennis players are boring.
True: anyone who saw Nick Kyrgios insult his opponent’s girlfriend at Wimbledon last year will know that some players still speak their mind. It’s just that they seem to be getting rarer.
That can’t only be because they spend their whole lives training, can it?
Indeed not. Boris Becker has argued that it’s harder to get away with swearing nowadays, as the fines are larger. Roger Federer has defended his ‘boringness’ by pointing out that players now have so many press conferences that they can’t be interesting the whole time.
What about other sports?
The likes of football and boxing probably have more personalities than tennis (Tyson Fury, anyone?). Yet here too, some say that players are becoming more homogenised. What do you think?

Word Watch

Johanna Konta
Born in Australia to Hungarian parents, Konta moved to England in 2005, and later took British citizenship. Ranked 144 in the world this time last year, she has since shot into the top 40. She is the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final in 33 years.
Australian Open
One of the four Grand Slams – the most important tournaments in tennis. It is held in Melbourne every January (when temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius!).
Mind guru
In his own words, Juan Coto helps Konta ‘think positively’ and ‘focus only on things [she] can control’. He has been coaching her since 2014, before which he worked with lawyers, actors and entrepreneurs.
Many tennis fans
Commentators and regular fans have long been complaining that tennis players are getting duller. Ex-champions Virginia Wade and Boris Becker have said the same.
Taylor Swift
Konta has admitted that she is a fan of Taylor Swift. She also told reporters that she likes ice cream, and argues with her boyfriend (whom she refuses to name) over what to watch on television.

Subjects

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