Johanna Konta: I’m lucky that I can practise, but we’ve no idea when the Tour will start again

MATT MAJENDIE
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In a world without Covid-19, Johanna Konta was supposed to be on court in Paris today.

Roland Garros had not proved a happy hunting ground for the British No1 until last year. Having previously never won a match at the French Open, in 2019 she made it all the way to the semi-finals.

This year, though, Konta is in her London flat, left to ponder what might have been this May and June. “I’m a bit disorientated, as last week I would have been preparing to drive to Paris and then play there this week,” she said. “Then, after that, it was getting on grass, which is always one of those exciting times for me.

“Grass is the most fun of all. We play it the least and, basically, it’s just home. I don’t have to get on a plane and it’s my favourite time of the year.”

There has been no shortage of home time, but the grass-court season has effectively been erased, notably Wimbledon, and, despite having come to terms with that, Konta knows she will feel a pang when late June arrives.

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“It still hurts to hear and I don’t think it will hit me fully until it comes round and you naturally starting thinking, ‘I’m not playing Wimbledon now, what’s going on?’” said the 29-year-old.

But there is at least some tennis, her exercise regime having shifted from walking her two dogs and getting the most from a makeshift home gym to playing down the road at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.

Already she has had a few sessions on court with one of her coaches, Dan Smethurst, the other side of the net. And she likened the experience of having a racket in hand again on court as akin to “a warm hug”. “That was my first time back just shy of nine weeks and I can’t remember ever having been off the court for that long, even with injuries,” she said.

Curtailed by injury last season and at the start of this year, the timing of the lockdown for Konta could not have been worse, having just found form and fitness again before the clay and grass sections of the season.

“I’d started to find that level and was back to winning matches and looking to build off that,” she said. “So, it was unfortunate timing for me. I appreciate that tennis is now by far one of the smaller issues in the grand context of things but, obviously, it’s big for me.”

The world No14 has instead made use of the lockdown time to launch a new podcast series where she interviews various guests, the first being James and Oliver Phelps, the Weasley twins from the Harry Potter films.

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Next on the show, which is out this week, is Williams Formula One team boss Claire Williams.

“I’ve put all my energy that I would on training and playing to get better on this,” she said. “It came about as I wanted to talk to successful, interesting people. It’s just a bit of a distraction from the crap. I was so nervous before the first one, I struggled to sleep the night before and was getting sweaty palms. My boyfriend was like, ‘You’re joking’, as I’ve obviously been in some more stressful situations.”

She argues that the podcast has also enabled her to show her true personality, rather than the more guarded character often seen. “I never pretend to be anyone other than who I am, but there is a certain amount of performing and having your guard up,” she said. “This podcast helps me peel back a few layers.”

Although she is enjoying the process, she makes no secret of her desire to get back to competition. Despite being on the WTA player council, she is none the wiser when that might be.

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“All we hear right now is maybes and ifs,” she said. “There’s no official announcement on a new starting date. With the new Government guidelines, we’re one of the lucky sports that can now practise, but competitively we’re going to struggle with how global it is.”

At a national level, the LTA have announced a British Tour, starting with four rounds at Roehampton in July, while Queen’s Club have entered the fray to host Jamie Murray’s end-of-June tournament — both behind closed doors — although Konta has not committed to playing either event.

Regarding life in lockdown, she said she had “a day or so where I had a miniature breakdown”, before “pulling myself together” and grasping how fortunate she is.

And yet there are still mini-setbacks to take: no French Open this week or Wimbledon further down the road.