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Thursday, January 11, 2018

An in-depth look at Johanna Konta's rise up the WTA rankings as she aims for Australian Open glory

Johanna Konta has enjoyed a spectacular rise to stardom in the past few years, but can she now land her maiden Grand Slam title in Australia?
Konta is the first British woman since Virginia Wade and Jo Durie to crack into the elite of the women's game, but her early season form has seen her hampered by injury.
She was forced to retire from her Brisbane International quarter-final with Elina Svitolina, and she then saw her Sydney International title defence swiftly ended by Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round on Tuesday.
Konta has been on a rollercoaster ride over the past few years, which has seen her climb the rankings up from 146th in the standings to world No 4 in July.
Her status as a genuine contender to win a major tournament is credit, in part, to her mental resilience.
She became the first British woman for 33 years to reach a Grand Slam semi-final when she made the last four at the Australian Open, replicating Durie's run at the 1983 US Open.
The 26-year-old is smashing records and the next landmark facing her in Grand Slams will be Wade's 1977 mark - the last British woman to reach a Grand Slam final when she won Wimbledon.
Konta claimed her first WTA Tour title at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and she then won the WTA Apia International in Sydney before taking home a cool £937,000 in prize money after winning the Miami Open title.
As well as finishing as runner-up in Beijing and Nottingham, Konta is a two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist, but is this the time she finally makes the step up Down Under?
Konta was born in Sydney to Hungarian parents. Her dad is a hotelier and her mum a dentist. She speaks both English and Hungarian.
She faced growing determination from Australian fans to claim her as one of their own last year. "I think the announcer on court tried to get the crowd involved," Konta said, following her scintillating third-round victory over Caroline Wozniacki at the Melbourne Slam.
"He said, 'Is she from Great Britain? Is she from Australia?' I'm like, 'this is kind of awkward'.
"But yeah, my place of birth is no secret. Also where I call home is no secret either. Everyone's pretty clear where they stand with me."
Konta moved to England and based herself in Eastbourne in 2005, aged 14. She qualified as a British citizen in May 2012 and soon started competing for Great Britain. In 2014, she switched her training base to Gijon in Spain working with her Spanish coaches Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia.
Her first Wimbledon appearance came courtesy of a wild card in 2012 and she showed her propensity for being able to go the distance in matches, eventually losing 10-8 to Christina McHale in a deciding set in the first round.
She reached the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time in 2015 when - ranked 97 in the world - she knocked out seeded pair Garbine Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic en route to the fourth round of the US Open, where she lost to Petra Kvitova.
Resilience and the ability to close out matches under pressure was once a regular weakness in Konta's game and her transformation was aided by the help of Juan Coto, her former 'mental coach', whom she had been working with since October 2014, until the news of his sudden death in November 2016.
She sprung a major surprise by splitting with Spanish coach Carril a month later and then brought in one of the women's tour's most experienced coaches in Wim Fissette.
Last year saw more significant progress made under Fissette with a semi-final berth at Wimbledon the highlight of another prosperous season.
But Konta sees herself as a perennial WTA Tour finalist and has set her sights on continuing her rapid progress with success at the Grand Slams under Maria Sharapova's former coach Michael Joyce for 2018. Can she find her fitness and form in time for Melbourne? With no Andy Murray, all British, and Aussie eyes, will be focused on Konta Down Under.