Tennis

Johanna Konta on family plans, health and Tokyo Olympics

A disrupted 2020 has brought certain things into focus for Johanna Konta and she will look back on it in a ‘nice way’ despite little success on court.

Konta, Britain’s highest-ranked tennis player, lost nine of her 17 matches – figures far from the lofty standards she set when reaching world No. 4.

Of her eight match wins only one came at a Grand Slam – a first-round win over compatriot Heather Watson at the US Open – and she failed to reach a WTA final for the first time since 2015.

There were, of course, mitigating circumstances. In a season heavily impacted – particularly on the WTA side – by the coronavirus crisis, Konta continued to deal with an ongoing knee problem. She describes her management of her body as a ‘big win’.

‘I think I will look back on it in a nice way because it was a very challenging but also very challenging for everyone,’ said Konta. ‘I definitely got some wins this year in the way of my knee.

‘My knee is a lot better. Actually the management of it and the way I am approaching it, even when I have pain, it’s so much better than it was at the end of last year and beginning of this year. So that is a big win.

‘Because I think that will help me in the next few seasons when I am playing, being able to manage my body that much better. I am healthy in general. My family around me are healthy. In the year of 2020 health is much more of a treasured gift.’

Her health was thrust into the spotlight when she suffered heart palpitations on court during the Top Seed Open in Lexington – her first tournament back following the shutdown of the tennis tours.

She maintains she ‘knows it’s not dangerous’ but has a plan in place, should it happen again, in order to learn more.

‘I have had no episodes since the heart palpitations thing,’ added Konta. ‘Knocking on wood, it won’t be happening for another few years. It’s one of those things where it is there but it’s nothing to be afraid of.

‘What I will be doing is I will be getting a little kind of kit where if it does happen…basically we are looking to get me little device where if it does happen while I am on court I am able to put my fingers on there and it maps out what my heart rate is doing.

‘We are looking to get that sorted for me and I can have that with me if I am in a situation where I am on court and it happens – then we can properly see what my heart is doing. That’s all the challenge with these sorts of things. You want to see what your heart is doing in the moment in which it is happening.

‘Otherwise, I have had every single test under the sun. My heart is absolutely fine. My health is absolutely fine. There is nothing to worry about that.’

And her knee?

‘It’s chugging along nicely,’ said Konta. ‘It’s still something I am dealing with. But I think it’s definitely going in the right direction.

‘I am getting stronger with it, I have had an updates scan recently where it shows that the tendon regrowth is looking really well. We mapped out what the tendon looked like last year compared to this year and it looks a much improved, much healthier tendon. Positive all-round.’

Konta, currently the 14th best female player on the planet, will turn 30 in May and is keeping her finger on the pulse in terms of matters away from the court as she considers when to hang up her racquet.

‘That’s the first time anyone has ever put that into conversation that I am turning 30 next year. Wow, I am turning 30,’ she smiled. ‘I know it’s a big day.

‘In terms of longevity, I definitely motivated, inspired and excited to play. I am 100% not looking to stop in the next couple of years for sure. However I am open also to what life throws at you.

‘You never know what the future holds, how things develop. I am training now into next season, I am looking forward to competing and see myself definitely playing another season after that.

‘Then I am going to listen to my body, listen to my heart and soul, see where I am in my life. I would like to have children so obviously that will be a considering factor in how long I play, how I do things. But yeah, let’s look forward to 2021 and then hopefully 2022 and then let’s see where we are!’

There is a growing cluster of mothers competing on the WTA Tour, with Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters the most high-profile.

All have reached Grand Slam finals since becoming parents, with Clijsters one of three mothers in history to win a major title after giving birth.

Konta, however, is unsure if she would consider a return to the tour after starting a family.

‘For sure, we have really amazing examples of incredible women who are able to do that, chosen to do that and wanted to do that,’ added Konta. ‘Vika is also another incredible example. There are a bunch of players, Tatjana Maria and Mandy Minella, who have done that.

‘Also players are who are embarking on motherhood and looking to play in the future. You know, it’s definitely a pathway that is becoming more walked and more stabilised and trail-blazed by some really incredible women.

‘I don’t know if that is a path for me. I can’t say I ever imagine myself playing on tour as a mother. I am not closed to the idea. One thing I have worked very hard on my career is to stay quite open to things around me and for things to change. I am open to that changing. But you know, I don’t know. Probably I’d see myself retire and then start a family. But who knows?’

Next season’s plans remain uncertain. No tournament calendar is yet set but should it be feasible, Konta is open to a Fed Cup return after the tie was moved from Mexico to Britain.

One event is in little doubt, however. Konta is desperate to be a part of Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics.

‘I mean first of all I want to be part of the Olympics. It would just mean so much to me to be part of Team GB,’ said Konta.

‘Being part of Team GB in Rio was a massive pinnacle in any athlete’s life. To be able to do that twice, 100% I’d love to be there. Obviously, I’d love to play singles. I mean I would definitely consider doubles. Hopefully Heather has also qualified for that or will be close to qualifying. Who knows whoever can have a really good year and qualify.’

Konta has already got her sights set on a mixed doubles partner: Britain’s top-ranked doubles player Joe Salisbury.

And she sent an unorthodox request, via coach Dan Smethurst, to partner the Australian Open champion.

‘I have already cheekily asked Joe if he will play mixed doubles with me. In the US Open, Dan and I were mucking around,’ said Konta. ‘I did a little…what’s it called? You know when people send in their tapes for audition. I did a little audition tape of me volleying.

‘I was like: “If you’ll have me, I’d be very grateful.” Hopefully we can play together. Who knows who will be playing then. Health and everything. There is a lot in the air. I’d definitely love to play mixed doubles with him if he will have me.

‘Dan sent it to him. And he responded to Dan, saying he is the one who should probably be auditioning not me. I thought that was very nice of him. Very chivalrous. Hopefully the Games all go ahead and no massive obstacles in the way for that.’

Jo Konta is an ellesse athlete. For details visit http://www.ellesse.com or @ellesse on Instagram +

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