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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, January 11, 2019

Johanna Konta

2016 Australian Open semifinalist Johanna Konta starts the new year with a new coach and new clothing contract with apparel sponsor ellesse.

Photo credit: TPN/Getty Images

Style doesn't define competitive character but it can be an expression of a player's major design.

At her best, Johanna Konta can dictate play with controlled aggression.

Watch: World Pays Tribute To Andy Murray

Now, the British No. 1 is engaged in creative collaboration. 

Konta opens the new season with a new look and a new coach.

The former world No. 4 has signed on with iconic Italian sports apparel brand ellesse, joining a cast of legendary champions—Chrissie Evert, Boris Becker and Guillermo Vilas— who have worn the brand.

Parting company with former coach Michael Joyce, Konta began working with coach Dimitri Zavialoff at the end of 2018. The pairing produced immediate results as Konta reached the Moscow semifinals falling to eventual-winner Daria Kasatkina.

Konta calls this, her fifth coaching relationship of her pro career, "much more of a partnership" than her prior coaching pairings. Eager to bounce back from a disappointing 2018 season where she suffered nine opening-round exits, Konta is asserting her voice.

The 38th-ranked Brit spoke candidly about burn-out, motivation and the value of the mental game during an address she gave at Oxford Union during the offseason.

"You're always playing chicken with the other player to see who's going to throw in the towel first," Konta said. "And when no one throws in the towel that's when epic matches happen."

In 2017, Konta hit bold strikes creating epic art to burst into the Wimbledon semifinals.

Two points from elimination, Konta cracked drives with authority fighting past Simona Halep, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4, to become the first British woman since Virginia Wade in 1978 to advance to the Wimbledon final four.

Since that pulsating conquest, Konta has scored just two major wins in her last five Grand Slam tournament appearances.

The 27-year-old Konta is aiming for a major homecoming in the nation of her birth.

It won't be easy. Konta has a tough Oz Open opening assignment facing Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, who beat her in Brisbane, 6-2, 7-6 (2), last week. The winner of that match could face two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in round two. 

Born in Sydney, Konta emerged as a Grand Slam contender at the 2016 Australian Open when she knocked off Venus Williams and Ekaterina Makarova en route to the semifinals, bowing to eventual-champion Angelique Kerber.

Elite opponents respect Konta's skill at stepping up to the baseline and dispensing decisisve shot combinations at crunch time.

Following her 2017 Australian Open quarterfinal win over the explosive Brit, Serena Williams predicted Konta would win a Slam someday.

Eight different women have claimed the last eight major titles.

Will 2019 be the year Konta breaks through?

We posed this and other questions to Konta in this Q & A.

Tennis Now: Johanna, why did you choose ellesse? What excites you most about this partnership?

Johanna Konta: Ellesse has an amazing tennis heritage and has always been a stylish presence within the sport, so it was naturally a brand which really appealed to me when the opportunity arose to work together. The brand has always focused on pushing the boundaries with a modern sports aesthetic.

And looking back at some of the names to have worn ellesse, you have the likes of Boris Becker winning Wimbledon so young, which was an iconic moment, Chris Evert, Guillermo Vilas, Pat Cash… the list goes on.

I’m really excited to wear their kit going forward and the iconic half-ball logo.

TN: What are the most important performance qualities you need for your on-court clothes?

Johanna Konta: Being comfortable on the court is obviously the main thing, but stepping out in a stylish kit can give you that little extra spring in your step and, ultimately, help your game. It really helps to be wearing something you love and feel good in.

From a technical perspective, the ellesse range has moisture-wicking fabric which keeps me cool, dry and comfortable …and the contours in the dresses allow me the flexibility I need in my game.

TN: How much input will you have with ellesse in its future designs for you? Is there any apparel-related requirement or superstition you've developed?

Johanna Konta: We’re chatting about what might be possible later on in the year and it’s a really exciting time, especially as I get to work closely with the ellesse team and have a real input, which is perfect.

I don’t have any clothing superstitions really. The preparation around my racquets and grips I like doing in a certain way.

Johanna Konta

TN: Can you share your best serving tips?

Johanna Konta: I’m not sure if there’s one serving tip in particular as the serve can be a little complicated, but If I had to give some pointers then I would say:

• Having the correct stance

• The right grip

• Correct height of the ball toss.

TN: Billie Jean King famously said “A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning.” You play an aggressive game that requires you to be brave under pressure. How do you play brave and bold in pressure moments when you may not feel brave?

Johanna Konta: I think believing in yourself and your game has to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, component to playing brave in the big moments. A lot of matches come down to points here and there and when the pressure is on it can come down to you believing in yourself that you can come through it.

Trusting that you have put in the hard work prior to the tournament and believing in yourself that you can execute the game plan.

TN: You were born in Sydney, you've played some of your most dynamic tennis in Australia. What is it about the surface, conditions, country that suits you?

Johanna Konta: Well I love playing here, I think the atmosphere has to be up there with some of the best in the world. So, I think when you combine the both it can only bring out some of your best tennis and I think that’s what’s happened here for me.

TN: What is your goal for the Australian Open and the 2019 season? Is returning to Top 10 a priority for you?

Johanna Konta: Of course it’s to win the tournament, but it’s also to put in the best possible performance that I can. I think if I focus on my performance, approach and my tennis in the right way then I believe I can go deep into the latter stages of the tournament.

In terms my goals for 2019, it’s also again about doing the best that I can do and trying to go about my tennis in the most professional manner possible. If I do that, then I believe my results will speak for themselves.

TN: Who or what inspires you in tennis and in life?

Johanna Konta: One of them is making my family and loved ones proud; it inspires me to go out there and do the best that I can every single time I step out on the court. But also my fans, back home in the UK and all over the world. The support I receive means the world to me and I always want to do well for them.

TN: What's the best piece of coaching advice you've received?

Johanna Konta: It’s tough to pinpoint one piece of advice, but there are a couple pieces that I think have stuck with me. One of them is to never give up, no matter how bad the situation is. Even if you are a set down or facing a match point, never think the match is finished but instead believe in yourself to turn the match around. And learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

TN: Who is the toughest opponent you’ve faced?

Johanna Konta: I think that a majority of the players on the circuit are tough, they have all earnt the right to be here, so I think it’s hard to pinpoint one particular player. There are so many tough opponents out there. Obviously, some game styles match up better than others but all of these women are here for a reason and they aren’t just going to give it to you.

TN: Serena said of you at the 2017 Australian Open: "I definitely see Johanna as a future champion." Eight different women have won the last eight Grand Slam titles. Do you see that trend continuing in 2019?

Johanna Konta: Serena is one of the greatest women ever to play, so I feel very privileged that she thinks of me so highly, but I think anyone can beat anyone on their day. Everyone at this level can play great tennis and sometimes it doesn’t come down to who’s more talented, it can come down to who wants it more. So yes, I do see different winners of the Grand Slams going forward. I also think it’s great for the fans.

TN: What’s the most challenging variable in tennis? Surface change? Changing conditions? Acclimating to the different time zone or tennis balls?

Johanna Konta: To name the most challenging variable might be a little hard as there are so many hurdles to overcome to compete and beat these women on the tour. Tennis is extremely demanding both physically and mentally, you spend 35 plus weeks on the road away from your family and friends. When you come over from the UK to Australia, adjusting to the time zone is not easy and takes a bit of time but because I have been doing it for my whole career. you start to get used to it and learn what works best for you.

TN: You’re a very clear communicator. Would you ever consider a career writing, acting, teaching, commentating after your playing days?

Johanna Konta: Why not? I haven’t thought that far into the future and I feel that I am in the prime of my career right now, but I wouldn’t mind trying acting. As you may know, I love to cook and bake and it’s a huge passion of mine - I definitely would like to continue to explore this more.


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