The Mental Rise of Konta
A little under 18 months ago, Australian born yet proudly British, Johanna Konta was ranked 150 in the WTA rankings. Fast forward to the end of the 2016 season and Konta has now made her way into the top 10 for the first time, only the 4th British woman ever to do so alongside; Virgina Wade, Sue Barker and Jo Durie. She also narrowly missed out on qualifying for the year end WTA championship event in Singapore, however she made the semi-final of the WTA Elite trophy event in China this week. We have seen many British players over the year’s plateau between 100-300 in the rankings with a few breaking into the top 100 but then struggling to maintain that position. Konta’s rise therefore has been unique for a British player over the past couple of generations. She has credited much of this rise in the rankings to the mental side of her game and the process she has put herself through to maintain a strong and positive mind-set throughout the ups and downs of ‘the tennis life’. Lets us look at what has been uniquely successful for Johanna Konta.
Konta Pre-June 2015
In previous years, Konta would be well known for breaking down emotionally and providing an easy insight into her mental state. She found it very difficult to close out big matches and would often exhibit the dreaded ‘choke’ response. Whatever it was; fear of winning. fear of failure, this response was getting in the way of her staying in the moment and executing what she needed to do at that point in time. She was hanging around the 150 mark in the world rankings never able to take that next step into the tennis elite.
In late 2014, Konta’s tennis coach Esteban Carril recommended she speak with Juan Coto a mental coach, who had previously been in the business world for 20 years before joining Alliance Coaching where he has helped a variety of people including lawyers, asset managers, actors and entrepreneurs deal with their emotions. By Konta’s own admission, the work she has been doing with Carril and Coto has really begun to pay dividends. Konta explains how she is ‘continuously looking to get better – not just as a tennis player but also as a person dealing with new experiences’. This is something that all players on court will experience. Every shot we play and receive is slightly different, every opponent will be different and we have to be able to live in the present and react positively to all these situations.
Konta has been compared to our other British number 1 on the men’s side, Andy Murray, who has been known for quite a few mental lapses in big matches (not at the moment it seems though!). In response to this comparison, she exclaimed, ‘I work differently, I enjoy creating a space around me and not getting too high or too low.’ This continues to show that she is very keen to ensure she does not lose her own personality and her own image. She does not try to force success with another method that has shown to be successful. She exhibits her own personality into her game. It is crucial that we all maintain our own personal identity on the court.
Konta is associated with one of the most distinctive pre-serve routines which includes; bouncing the ball 3 times to shoulder height and 2 further times to thigh height. This is something that she admits looks awkward yet ‘is just the way it is and feels completely natural’. Konta is yet to divulge any further information about this process, but we can make a strong educated guess as to why she may be doing this. Having this long controlled routine will give her the chance to focus her energy, possibly visualise where her serve is going and what outcome she wishes to achieve with it, thus staying in the moment and not allowing any other thoughts to creep in. She is controlling the controllable.
Over the last 2 seasons Konta has transformed from a player with potential who was prone to emotional weakness into one of the mentally strongest players on the tour. Mental strength is a trait shown by the big female players; Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber to name a few. These players have all won multiple grand slams. This mentality is what Konta, Carril and Coto have worked so hard at and is most definitely a pivotal reason why Konta has now broken into the WTA top 10 and maybe just maybe could give her the opportunity of winning one of the big ones in 2017….. However Konta won’t be thinking that far ahead, she will be focussed on the moment!