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Johanna Konta to take tennis by storm after Australian Open heroics

By Paul Newman

Johanna Konta has three passports (British, Australian and Hungarian), two coaches (Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia) and one dream (to be the best). Distance is no object for the 24-year-old Briton, who moved to the other side of the world to pursue her career and now commutes between two countries in her quest to make the most of her talent.

Konta, who was due to meet Angelique Kerber here today in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, has had an astonishing rise in the last seven months. Her 6-4, 6-1 quarter-final victory yesterday over the Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai guaranteed that she will break into the game's top 30 for the first time next week, just eight months after she began last summer's grass-court season as the world No 147.

Her climb may have accelerated in recent months, but for Konta it is all part of a process that began when she started playing tennis at the age of eight and led to her leaving Australia, the country of her birth (to Hungarian parents), in search of a training base when she was 13.

Konta attended the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, where her 15-month off-and-on stay overlapped briefly with Andy Murray's, before rejoining her family, who had decided to move to Britain and eventually settled in Eastbourne.

For several years Konta's base was the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, but with the Lawn Tennis Association making cuts in funding for elite players she decided early last year to spend more time training in Gijon in northern Spain with her two Spanish coaches, who have been working with her for nearly 18 months now.

Konta had been coached by Carril as a teenager and linked up with him again after he stopped working with Roberto Bautista Agut, the current world No 21.

"He's very professional," said Konta yesterday. "He's very calm, good-hearted and a big supporter of mine who has always demonstrated he has full belief in me. He's helped me to basically find a way to give my best every time I step on to court and then really simplify things mentally."

Konta admits that her Spanish is not up to much.

"Much to my mother's dismay, I don't speak as much as would be respectable seeing as I have a very strong Spanish team around me," she said.

Konta has sometimes struggled to make ends meet, but by reaching the semi-finals here she guaranteed herself prize money of $Aus750,000 (about £370,000). Until last week her entire career earnings totalled just $848,000 (about £590,000).

Given her background, it is no surprise that Australians want to claim Konta as one of their own.

"That's really a lost cause," she said at her post-match press conference yesterday.

"I definitely belong to Great Britain."

Asked whether she was aware how much interest had been building in her back home, Konta replied: "No, but the UK is a number of thousands of miles away and a completely different time zone, which in this case might be quite nice. I think whatever pressure or whatever buzz there is outside, it only affects me as much as I let it."

Belfast Telegraph


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