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Johanna Konta: 'I decided that I wanted to be the world's number one when I was nine years old'

Tennis ace Johanna Konta talks to Luke Rix-Standing about ambitions, dogs, role models, and what it's like to serve in front of millions of people

Johanna Konta at Wimbledon
Johanna Konta at Wimbledon

By Luke Rix-Standing

It's been a tumultuous few years for Johanna Konta. In 2017, she earned a nomination for BBC Sports Personality of the Year after clocking a career-high ranking of number four in the world and reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals.

Then, however, 2018 was far tougher for the British women's number one, and she split with her third coach in as many years after plummeting to 45th in the world.

But 2019 has seen her bounce back in style, reaching the Wimbledon quarters and the French Open semis to finish the year at number 12.

Now, as 2020 approaches, we caught up with the Ellesse ambassador to talk fashion, fitness, and finding her way through the notoriously tough world of tennis...

Tell us a little bit about your own style?

"I think style is about self-expression for a lot of people, and for me that's all about comfort. Off court, I'd say I'm reserved and reasonably classic. I'm not particularly out there with my style."

Just how much of your off-court lifestyle is dictated by tennis?

Johanna Konta at this year’s Pride Of Sport event
Johanna Konta at this year’s Pride Of Sport event

"My job is all-encompassing, and even the way I treat my body when I'm resting dictates what I'm able to get out of it when I'm on court. Everything from sleeping to eating to general life choices - it all matters."

How do you de-stress after a big match?

"After a very long or emotionally intense match, you need a little time to decompress. It changes depending on where I am and who I'm with, but food is a big part of it, and getting to eat something I enjoy helps me relax.

"I'm looking to take care of my body, and give my mind the time to enjoy or digest what's happened during the day."

After emotionally intense matches do you ever struggle to switch off?

"I've learned how over the years. It's very much a mindset and it does involve conscious effort. I go through my routines, debrief the match with my coaching team, and then give myself permission to enjoy the rest of the day. If you're kind to yourself, separate things a bit, and give yourself time, then it starts to take care of itself."

How do you stay positive if things aren't going your way on court?

"There are a lot of different factors, but you've got to keep a positive perspective.

Your opponent is out there for the same reasons you are, so you've got to look for opportunities to do things differently, and acknowledge when your opponent is doing things well.

Johanna Konta at Wimbledon
Johanna Konta at Wimbledon

When you accept that, you can stop judging yourself too harshly."

Off court, how do you look after your well-being?

"Again, it's about finding the right perspective. I have so many things to be grateful for, and it's important to remember that when things aren't going my way. I have a family that I'm incredibly close to, and a lot of good things I know to stay very humble about."

Do you ever struggle to motivate yourself?

"I've never met anyone that's motivated every day of their lives, and sometimes it does feel like a real struggle.

"But those days are temporary, and down the years I've learned to accept that and look for positives in them. Something I can enjoy, or something that will add to me as a person or player."

Have you ever had difficulty with the performance aspect of tennis - playing in front of so many people?

"Maybe in my late-teens and early-20s I did find it hard, as you have to find your place in the sport and at that age there's definitely insecurity. But I always enjoyed performing in front of people, especially as a youngster, and after working through that stage I began to enjoy it again."

When you were growing up, was there a moment you knew you wanted to be a tennis player?

"I decided I wanted to be number one in the world when I was nine years old. I was just very fortunate that I had a family around me that did everything possible to help me work towards that dream."

Did you have a sporting icon that you looked up to?

"I never truly idolised or wanted to be like anyone, I think I always wanted to be myself. However, I did admire Steffi Graf, her class, her presence, and the way she carried herself."

Are you particularly conscious of your role as role model?

"Not actively, I don't wake up every morning and think, 'I'm a role model', but I enjoy talking to anybody that I can find parallels in their journey with what I've spoken about in mine.

"There's always a joy in sharing things like that with people, and if I can get them through just one tough match, it's a great privilege."

Do you have any tips for youngsters following in your footsteps?

"The main thing is accepting that a lot of things come with time and experience, and being kind to yourself, whatever your situation. As you grow up and go through your career, you'll have to make a lot of decisions for yourself, and trusting those decisions is massive."

Is there anything you would change about your career so far?

"No regrets! I'm a firm believer that things do happen for a reason, and that you choose paths that you were meant to take. They help you evolve and be more prepared for the different challenges that come along the way, and I wouldn't change my journey for anything."

When are you at your happiest?

"With my dogs. I'm really enjoying my career, I'm really enjoying playing tennis, and I'm really enjoying the people that I have in my life. I'm very grateful for the amount of joy I get from my work."

Johanna Konta is the British women's tennis number one and a leading Ellesse athlete. Information on the brand's AW19 collections can be found at ellesse.com

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