Johanna Konta can get to the top; she’s got pretty close already, says new coach

David Foster Wallace, one of the sport’s finest chroniclers, once described Johanna Konta’s new coach, Michael Joyce, as “a world-class tennis player”. And he was, indeed, the best junior in the United States in 1991 and good enough to reach the boys’ final at Wimbledon.

But DFW would come to know that it was as a guide and mentor where Joyce, who reached a career-high ranking of 64 and earned just under $700,000 in 14 years on the Tour, would excel in the sport. And it was the calm intelligence with which he helped Maria Sharapova fashion her career between 2004 and 2011 that Konta recognised as most valuable in aiding her bid for a breakthrough major.

Speaking of their joint challenge as a fledgling partnership at the Australian Open, Joyce sees striking similarities between the Russian and Konta that some may have missed.

“I like the way Jo plays,” the Californian says. “I like the offensive-style player. I feel like I can relate to her game better than some other girls’. I feel I have to deal differently with each one because you have to be able to get through to your player.

“You might have certain messages but, if they don’t get them, it doesn’t do you any good. So the way I throw a message to Jo might be different to somebody else. And she reminds me a lot of Maria, has a lot of her characteristics. They both want it really bad. They both aren’t going to cut any corners to get there. Jo’s game is a simple one if she’s executing. She’s definitely not the type of player you’ve got to yell at and try to push. So I think we’ll get along fine.”

So does the player, whose opening match will be a tricky one against the American Madison Brengle, who beat her in 2015 and lost to her a year later. After working together briefly in the off-season, Konta and Joyce teamed up for the first time against another American – Madison Keys – in Brisbane last week, and the British No1 overcame a quiet start to post a fine three-set win.

“We have been working together since roughly the beginning of December,” Konta said. “It’s still early days. There’s only so much you can do in five, six weeks. But one thing I’m sure of is he comes with a lot of experience also as a player. He talks about his experiences on court, which is valuable to someone like me who is still playing. He understands me as a player and how I look to compete. He’s helping me right now to just reassert myself.” It is a judgment Joyce recognises. The 44-year-old was aware of Konta’s early-career collapses and anxieties, when she seemed to be wandering endlessly in the wilderness, unable to tap into her obvious talent. So there is inbuilt empathy, born of their shared experiences as players.

“I saw some of those meltdowns a few years ago, before I really knew her,” he says. “I knew her old coach Esteban [Carril] pretty well, because I had played him a little bit. I remember telling him: ‘I don’t know exactly what you’ve done but it’s pretty amazing to see a girl at her age be able to turn around her career like that.’ So, from a distance, I admired what she was able to do.

“I’ll tell you: every player at some point has had a freak-out moment, or some people have freak-out six months. Jo’s openness actually makes my job easier because I’ve worked with girls before where I knew that was happening but they pretended it wasn’t.”

Even Konta’s defeat by Agnieszka Radwanska in Sydney this week was not the setback it might have seemed at first. “I told her: ‘Maybe it’s good it happened in a way.’ All I really did was calm her down. I just tried to take the pressure off. I hope that’s something I can help her with. Half the battle is not showing your opponent things, not showing the way you feel. I have no doubt she will improve that as well. The more she improves that, the better she’s going to end up being in the long run.”

Joyce taught Sharapova when she was young how to cope with expectations: “If you win a grand slam or you win something really big, it’s great. You can go celebrate but you’ve got to get back to work in a few days. And the same thing: if you lose, you’ve got another tournament.”

His abiding philosophy, then, gels with the famed “process” Konta is known for. “If you can take your losses and wins without too much emotion in either direction, I think you’ll look back at the end [of your career] and probably have accomplished even more. Jo, when I talked to her about it, it’s kind of what she likes to think.”

Now she has to take all those thoughts, park them and go out to try to win her first grand slam title. She may never get a better chance than this one. Joyce is adamant the absence of the defending champion, Serena Williams, and the indifferent form and fitness of a few of the contenders, has thrown the draw wide open.

“In the past you’d look at a grand slam for the women and you’d say there’s probably three or four girls who can win it. Usually Serena was right up there, of course. Now you can look at this tournament and say there’s probably 20 girls who can win, maybe even more. I am sure nobody thought Sloane Stephens was going to win the US Open, nobody thought Jelena Ostapenko was going to win the French. It’s wide open. With that being said, you’ve got to be ready to go from the first round.

“I was really excited when I started working with Vika Azarenka, I decided to do it partly because I wanted to be with someone who I thought could win a grand slam and get back to the top. I kind of missed that. Then obviously her [child custody] situation made it impossible for me to continue. When the opportunity came up with Jo I knew right off the bat she’s a contender to get to the top. She’s proven that, she’s gotten pretty close. To be part of that journey with her is really exciting for me.”

So, Joyce: good player, excellent coach, smart operator. He could be the person to make it happen for Konta this time.



Автор: Kevin Mitchell in Melbourne
Дата: 2018-01-13 02:30

Источник: Johanna Konta can get to the top; she’s got pretty close already, says new coach