WTA Finals 2016

An appetite for her sport

Britain's Johanna Konta on the purple carpet at the WTA Finals singles public draw ceremony at Marina Bay Sands on Friday. She only failed to make the eight-woman tournament when Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow the next day
Britain's Johanna Konta on the purple carpet at the WTA Finals singles public draw ceremony at Marina Bay Sands on Friday. She only failed to make the eight-woman tournament when Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow the next day.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Gelato lover Konta just missed WTA Finals, but little can quell her hunger to do well

Johanna Konta spent her off-season last year on a gastronomic gelato journey in Rome. Not ice cream, mind you - for as someone who professes on her Twitter profile that she "takes gelato very seriously", she insists "there is a difference".

The former tennis journeywoman has been on quite the adventure herself since, just missing out on qualifying for the season finale in Singapore after a breakthrough season.

One who used to "blend in" is getting recognised a lot more these days. Even without a bulky tennis bag slung around her, Konta gets spotted out of her British home town of Eastbourne and by strangers in airports around the world.

But despite the keen eyes that look out for her and the watchful ones that track her every triumph and tumble, little has changed for the world No. 10 - least of all her perspective, philosophy and principles when it comes to tennis.

"I don't see myself differently," said Konta, who became the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1983 to make the final four of a Grand Slam at the Australian Open this year. She is also the first after Durie in 1984 to make the top 10.

Getting to the fourth round of big events like the US Open, Indian Wells, Rome and the last eight in Miami earned Konta votes from her peers as the Most Improved Player of the Year.

With her team and family, though, she jokes that she is often put in her place.

IMMERSED IN THE EXPERIENCE

I'm just enjoying my journey and I'd like to think (I'm) getting more experience and wiser as a person and competitor. Hopefully I'll be doing this for many years to come.

JOHANNA KONTA , the world No. 10.

She said: "My goals have stayed exactly the same for the last number of years and No. 1 is to look after my health and give myself the opportunity to play as much as I want to.

"... Make sure that every day that I step out to the courts, I practise and I compete the way I want to, with the mindset I want to be in."

Konta chuckles, realising it is far from the kind of soundbite the media savours and more of a "broken record," as she put it.

Still, she said: "It was a massive journey, massive growth and personal development to get myself to this state of mind, this habit of living my days like this."

Born in Sydney and raised in Hungary, the 25-year-old spent time training in Barcelona and Texas before her family moved to England when she was 14. Her odyssey across continents before calling East Sussex home seems fitting for someone who circled the top 100 for years before claiming her rightful place in the professional tennis stratosphere.

She said: "Whoever wants to get to the top of their field or try to achieve something, there are always going to be obstacles and hardships, things to go through to understand yourself better and what you want better."

What Konta craves, as many athletes do, is improvement. Perhaps what sets her apart is that she readily accepts - and even embraces - the searing heat of refining fire.

So ask if backing up her best season so far feels daunting, or if the unique weight of expectation placed on proven champions is burdensome, and she answers simply.

No.

" I'm looking forward to the different challenges that I'll face next year," she said.

"I enjoy the pursuit of getting better every day. Taking that enjoyment from difficult situations is what makes me feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

"I'm just enjoying my journey and I'd like to think (I'm) getting more experience and wiser as a person and competitor. Hopefully I'll be doing this for many years to come."

Until another Australian swing and a new year of challenges unfolds in January for Konta, a familiar journey back to Rome awaits.

"For gelato and general eating," she said, before adding with a straight face. "I'm not kidding. It's not a funny subject."

She does, after all, take her gelato as seriously as she does her tennis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'An appetite for her sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe