Johanna Konta on returning to Eastbourne, a love for gelato and looking ahead to Wimbledon
- Credit: Mike Frey/BPI/REX/Shutterstock
Eastbourne has played a key role in the life of Johanna Konta. Here in an exclusive interview with Sussex Life, the golden girl of British tennis reflects on the town, the tournament and life on tour
It’s hardly surprising Johanna Konta is looking forward to the Nature Valley International tennis tournament in Devonshire Park, Eastbourne at the end of June. This is where, as a wildcard entry three years ago, she burst onto the scene with sensational victories over two of the world’s top 20 players.
After dramatically disposing of Ekaterina Makarova (8), Johanna then accounted for Garbiñe Muguruza (20) before losing her quarter-final in three sets to the eventual champion, Belinda Bencic. Having entered the tournament at 146, Johanna embarked on a relentless march up the world rankings.
She had no need to rely on a wildcard invitation in 2016 as she was firmly established in the world’s top 20. Her run to the semi-final included a victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová.
Then last year, after recovering from a heavy fall on match point, she courageously beat world number one Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals before losing a three-set semi-final to Karolina Pliskova.
“The Eastbourne tournament is incredibly special for a number of reasons,” she explains. “Any time I get to play in the UK and get all that support it’s always a real privilege and one of the best feelings that you can have as a tennis player. Playing in front of the Eastbourne crowd is brilliant because it’s home turf and it has inspired me to some great results there, which in turn are really good memories to draw on.”
Is she going to win it this year? “I hope so! We just go out there and give it our best. But Eastbourne always attracts an incredibly strong line-up and it won’t be easy.”
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Eastbourne was her first home in England after her parents moved here from Australia a dozen or so years ago when she was 14 and attending the Sanchez Casal tennis academy in Barcelona. Why Eastbourne? “I think there were a number of reasons why they chose Eastbourne – for their work (mum is a dentist and dad is a hotelier) and because it’s a great place to live. They’ve really enjoyed living there and making our family home in Eastbourne.”
What were her first impressions of the town and how did it compare with where she was previously living in Australia? “They’re very different obviously but I liked Eastbourne straight away. It’s quintessentially British in lots of ways but there’s more to it as well. I love the outdoors and walking up on Beachy Head and being so close to the sea are both big plusses.”
After living in Sovereign Harbour for several years, Johanna recently moved to London. “As a tennis player, you are travelling the world most weeks so it’s really important to be close to Heathrow. I also do a lot of my training at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, south-west London, so I needed to be close to there, too.”
What does she miss most about Eastbourne? “Obviously I have to say my parents. I think it’s hard to beat walking along the beach on a sunny day as well. I love being close to the sea.”
What’s it like being a professional tennis player travelling the world and worrying about your ranking? “It’s a privilege and something I dreamed of doing since I was a young child. Travelling so much and being away from home and your loved ones so much can be hard but it’s a sacrifice you make in order to do the job you love. As for my ranking, I try not to worry about that too much. I focus more on how I’m playing and how I can improve.”
Does she ever wake up in yet another hotel room thinking she would rather be walking over the Downs or strolling along the promenade in Eastbourne licking an ice-cream? “I definitely have those moments. I get back to Eastbourne to see my parents whenever my schedule allows. I’m a big gelato fan so that’s definitely on the to-do list whenever I do come back to Eastbourne.”
Last year, Johanna rose to world number four and memorably reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon. Does being Britain’s number one and carrying the hopes of a nation put a lot of extra pressure on her during Wimbledon fortnight? “I think it’s important to see the support you get at Wimbledon as a big plus and not a negative thing. It can be incredibly inspiring to play when you have the Centre Court crowd behind you, and I was lucky enough to have a few of those moments last year. I try not to worry too much about other people’s expectations. You can’t control how other people see you or get caught up in what they’re thinking.”
When she eventually retires from professional tennis – with half-a-dozen grand slams under her belt – where will she settle down to live? “I’d be delighted to live anywhere if I had half-a-dozen Grand Slams under my belt!”
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