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'Home' support key for Johanna as Venus suffers a shock

By Robert Jones

Published 20/01/2016

Brit of alright: British No.1 Johanna Konta shakes hands with Venus Williams after putting the American out of the Australian Open
Brit of alright: British No.1 Johanna Konta shakes hands with Venus Williams after putting the American out of the Australian Open

Johanna Konta may have received plenty of support from the locals in the country she grew up in, but she insists her heart very much lies with Great Britain.

Sydney-born Konta, who moved to Great Britain at the age of 14, pulled off a major shock as she dispatched Venus Williams in straight sets, 6-4 6-2, to reach the second round of the Australian Open.

The British No.1 was cheered to the biggest victory of her career on Rod Laver Arena and when asked playfully if she could be convinced to come back, replied: "No. Unfortunately, my home is Great Britain.

"It has been for a long time now, over a decade. That's where my heart is."

Another Australian journalist asked if Konta was "the one that got away."

"I feel as if that's one of those boyfriend talks," Konta quipped.

"Australian tennis is doing quite well, to be honest. You have a number of very good players, but it's a compliment that you guys would say that, so thank you."

Konta used to go to Melbourne Park to play under-12 nationals on the outside courts and though she practised on Rod Laver Arena she had never had a match there.

She showed no signs of nerves against eighth seed and seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams, 35, and feels that growing up in the conditions definitely had its advantages.

"I'm very lucky that I got to spend a lot of my young years here, because I obviously got exposed to the heat out here," said Konta.

"My sister still lives here, so I still have a family connection here. Australia is a beautiful country to have once called home and to always come visit. Yeah, it's special to me in that way."

She added: "I definitely felt a lot more support than I was anticipating. Obviously she has a huge fan base just because it's Venus Williams, but, no, I was very pleasantly surprised with the amount of support I got."

Konta moved up more than 100 places in the world rankings from No.150 to 48 and made the last 16 of the US Open in 2015 and this win, in what is her first Australian Open, suggested that form was no flash in the pan.

Now the world No.47, she is 4-2 against top-10 players and the only British woman left in the singles draw after Heather Watson lost on Monday.

Disillusioned by her struggles on the tour, the Australian Open could have been Zhang Shuai's last grand slam appearance but the Chinese qualifier found a reason not to quit on Tuesday when she sent second seed Simona Halep packing.

With her parents watching in the crowd for the first time, the 25-year-old wept with emotion at Margaret Court Arena after completing a stunning 6-4 6-3 win to set up a second round match with Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

Only months before, Zhang, from China's northern port of Tianjin, had all but resolved to hang up her racquet and pursue a simpler life on the soil.

"Last year, I actually didn't want to go compete. I was scared of playing," she said.

"I didn't mind that the tour was tiring, I just didn't want to play. I think getting through that period helped me mature. I think it was a very important experience."

Asked what she would have done away from the game, Zhang said "farming".

"I wanted to grow fruit, vegetables, grow flowers," she added.

"I felt I really want to have this kind of life."

Belfast Telegraph

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