MIAMI • The WTA Tour is an endless sea of opportunity at the moment. And as each new tournament begins without Serena Williams, the same question arises. Which player is ready to break away from the field?
The 35-year-old, who has a knee injury, has not played since winning the Australian Open in late January for her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, and it is unclear when she will return.
The world No. 1, Angelique Kerber, has been alternating between awesome and fragile, while other aspirants are queueing up without total conviction.
It is against that backdrop that Johanna Konta of Britain stepped up on Saturday and defeated the former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-3 at the Miami Open, winning the biggest title of her career.
She joined Russian veteran Elena Vesnina - the surprise winner of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, two weeks ago - in having triumphed this season on the North American hard- court circuit.
Neither Konta, 25, nor Vesnina, 30, has won a Grand Slam event, and neither is considered a young and promising star.
PUTTING IN THE HOURS
It was just about time and patience and also determination to really stick with the process, my process of focusing on my work. I needed to go through certain life experiences - not just on court - to make me into the competitor that I am.
JOHANNA KONTA, on her rise to success.
But their success speaks to their perseverance - and an evolving tennis landscape in which a player is not necessarily considered washed up if she did not attain superstardom as a teenager.
This was only the second time that Konta had been ranked high enough to even play at Miami, a premier mandatory event one step below the Grand Slams.
She secured her second WTA Tour title of the season - after a victory in January in her birthplace, Sydney - and her third overall in just her fourth appearance in a final.
Konta will rise to No. 7 - the highest she has ever been - in the tour rankings today. "I think for me, it was just about time and patience and also determination to really stick with the process, my process of focusing on my work," she said.
Her recent success had much to do with her maturation as a player and a person. She said: "I needed to go through certain life experiences - not just on court - to make me into the competitor that I am."
Konta moved from Australia to Britain in 2005 and began officially representing that country in 2012.
In December 2014, her funding from the British Lawn Tennis Association was cut significantly because of a lack of success.
She relocated her training base from London to Gijon, Spain, and worked with coaches Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia along with a mental coach, Juan Coto.
The results came quickly. Konta was ranked No. 147 just before Wimbledon in 2015. She finished the 2016 season ranked in the top 10.
With Coto's help, Konta largely overcame her tendency to falter in crucial moments. But he died suddenly in November at age 47, and a few weeks later, Konta parted ways with Carril.
In stepped Wim Fissette, an experienced coach on the women's tour whose charges have included Simona Halep and two former No. 1s, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters. And he has helped her reach the next level of her sport.
"She has been keeping her head so well the whole (Miami) tournament," former great Martina Navratilova told BT Sport. "She's ice cool. Very few can hit Caroline off the court like that: Serena Williams, Muguruza, Sharapova."
Konta is in pretty good company. But can she go on to win a Grand Slam? "Jo Konta can beat anybody on a given day. She's definitely on the right track," Navratilova added. "If you put in the work, it will pay off."
NEW YORK TIMES, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE