Wimbledon: Konta has got the ability and self-confidence to go all the way this week, insists coach
Johanna Konta's mental strength has faltered only once in the seven months that Wim Fissette has been coaching her. It was in March at Indian Wells when the 26-year-old Briton played Caroline Garcia, who will be on the opposite side of the net again here today in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Konta had made a fine start to the year, but in the third round in California she faded after winning the opening set. Garcia won the tie-break at the end of the third set 7-1.
“That was for me a strange match where she was not really able to control her emotions very well,” Fissette said here as he looked ahead to Konta’s rematch with the 23-year-old Frenchwoman. “In the tie-break in the third set, she was not really ready to compete at her best because I saw her shaking her head after the first point of the tie-break.
“We spoke after the match and I said: ‘Johanna, if there’s something that I expect from you, it’s to be mentally right there, because it is one of your strengths.’ Her mental side is for sure one of her strengths and I say we have to keep using it and have to be aware of staying positive out there.”
He added: “That is the only match where I have thought that. We spoke about it and came to the conclusion that she is also human and she can have days when she finds it hard to control her emotions. You can do as many breathing exercises on court as you want, but days will come when it is just hard to control your emotions. That was a day like that.”
The Indian Wells experience was out of character for a player who has worked tirelessly to eradicate the mental meltdowns which blocked her early progress. Konta, who has worked closely with mental coaches, is 26 but has been playing regularly in the biggest tournaments only in the last two years.
Fissette, a hugely experienced coach who has also worked with Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep, was encouraged by the tournament immediately after Indian Wells as Konta enjoyed the biggest triumph of her career by winning the Miami Open.
“After that match in Indian Wells, where she wasn’t as mentally strong as I expected, she did great in Miami and stayed really strong and showed positive emotions,” he said.
The Belgian does not think the experience in Indian Wells will weigh heavily on Konta’s shoulders here. “She beat [Garcia] quite a few times in the past,” he said. “She has got to be confident that she can beat her.
“I will watch the match from Indian Wells to look again at what happened — what was working and what was not working so well. And I will watch [Garcia’s] last match here against [Madison] Brengle.”
Fissette appreciates that Konta is most comfortable when she stays inside her “bubble” and does not display her emotions. “Johanna is very focused on her mental state and she’s trying to stay in a neutral one,” he said. “You will never see her very negative or very positive on the court. It will be more like neutral. That’s her.”
However, he has in the past suggested that it might help Konta if she was more emotional. He explained: “In Miami, I asked her: ‘You always stay quite neutral, even when things are going not really well. Maybe it’s better to break a racket once in a while and get the frustrations out and then you can continue. You don’t have to do it all the time but maybe once.’
“She said: ‘I have experience in the past that it’s something that is not helping me, for sure not a negative way.’
“But using more positive body language is for sure something that is helping her, like screaming after a really good point or showing her fists. She knows that is helping her. She has to stay open for that.”
Fissette said it would be impossible for Konta to shut out the fact that this is her home Grand Slam tournament. “I don’t think anybody is able to do that completely,” he said. “But as she’s using different tricks or exercises to control staying in this moment that is really helping her.”
Fissette thinks the way Konta handled the pressure in her three-hour victory over Donna Vekic last week will stand her in good stead.
“She stayed so calm,” Fissette said. “It was a very important match for her, especially here on Centre Court. She felt comfortable on the court. She also got a lot of confidence that she is able to play well under high pressure on this court, so mentally it will help her in the future for sure.”
Fissette thinks Konta can learn to take more advantage of the support of the home fans. “It’s still new, but I think she has to learn how to appreciate it more and use it more as a positive.
Asked what made the difference between a top player and one who can win a Grand Slam title, Fissette said it boiled down to having a “champion mentality”. He added: “I don’t think there will be 10 players [at Wimbledon] who believe in themselves, so there are few with the champion mentality, [who believe] that they are the ones.”
Does he reckon Konta believes she can win Wimbledon? “I think so,” he said.