Category Archives: Tennis

Will Konta Be Queen of Melbourne?

Johanna Konta’s path to the semi-finals of the Australian Open is blocked by a woman who, in the words of the British number one, is on an even “more incredible journey” than she is. Dom Kureen takes a look at what lies ahead for the woman blazing a British tennis trail.

 

 

Born in Sydney in 1991, Johanna Konta relocated with her family to Eastbourne in 2005, at the age of 14 (only gaining British citizenship in 2012). Now she is set to become the first British woman to contest a Grand Slam quarter-final for 32 years when she takes on Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai on Rod Laver Arena later today.

Having beaten seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in straight sets in the opening round, Konta held her nerve over three hours and four minutes to defeat brilliant Russian Ekaterina Makarove 8-6 in the decisive third set of their fourth-round match.

 

Underachiever to contender

This time last year Konta slumped to number 147 in the world rankings following a straight sets loss in the first round of qualifying in Melbourne. The following month took her to Arizona and California, where she earned just over £700 in two tournaments on the second-tier ITF circuit.

Victory over Zhang would place her inside the world’s top 30 for the first time, a position that guarantees seeding for all of the majors.

The work she has done with mental coach Juan Coto has been well documented, but the 24-year-old has also made technical adjustments to her game.

 

On the other side of the net

Her next opponent Zhang has previously reached the top 30 herself, although a dismal reversal of fortunes in 2015 saw her drop outside the top 100 by the end of last season. This, coupled with a Grand Slam record of 0-14, the worst of anyone inside the top 300, meant that she was given little chance of progressing beyond the first round again this time.

Aged 27 and seemingly going nowhere, she considered retiring to open a coffee shop before opting to devote another year to her career on the WTA circuit.

It was no surprise to her when she was paired with second seed Simona Halep in round one.

“Before the draw, I already guessed I would play Halep, because all the time I play the top players,” the 27-year-old told Kureen.

But, for once, a bad draw was not followed by a Grand Slam defeat. In the first Tuesday night session on Margaret Court Arena, the qualifier ranked 133 in the world won 6-4 6-3.

Konta

Konta is just over two years Zhang’s junior, but her career seems to be barely approaching its zenith.

“Eat, sleep, repeat,” is her mantra as she prepares for an Australian Open quarter-final that seemed totally inconceivable 12 months ago.

Fellow Briton Andy Murray also plays in the quarter-finals in Melbourne later today, against veteran Spaniard David Ferrer.

The 28-year-old Scot offered some advice for Konta as she aims to continue her unlikely run by reaching the last four.

“She’s just got to keep doing what she’s doing. Keep her head down, keep working hard, stay calm,” said Murray, who has reached the final four times previously.

“She’s doing great. To back up what she was doing at the end of last year was fantastic reward for all of the hard work she has put in”

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

His greatest achievement so far?

Exhausted and emotionally drained, Andy Murray fell to the ground, finally releasing the iron grip that carried Great Britain to their first Davis Cup triumph since the days of long trousers and cigarettes between points.

It had been 79 years since Britain last accomplished the feat, sustained by the dream team of Fred Perry and Bunny Austin.  

As Murray’s conclusive, sublimely executed backhand lob sailed over a prone David Goffin and several inches inside the baseline, the Scottish superstar crumbled to the ground in elation, having carried his team throughout the competition. 

Andy Murray
Andy Murray

Belgium’s Flanders Expo in Ghent provided the stage from which the drama unfolded, with the home side selecting a slow clay surface in an attempt to negate Murray’s influence.

That theory proved futile, with the world number two virtually as adept on all surfaces in 2015, as showcased in a thrilling French Open semi-final earlier this year, where world number one, Novak Djokovic, required five sets to dispense with the Scot in one of their many memorable encounters.

Others contributed to GB’s four excellent wins. James Ward’s unexpected 15-13 fifth set triumph over USA’s John Isner proved pivotal in a 3-2 first round victory, and Jamie Murray backed up his younger bro’ in the doubles, with the pair winning both of their encounters against France and Belgium.

David Goffin

Still, this would not have been conceivable without the unwavering desire of the squad’s talismanic spearhead, who ticked another goal from his bucket list often, at the expense of results within solo competition.

Indeed, Andy entered the ATP World Tour Finals clearly distracted by the impending Davis Cup decider. Having trained almost exclusively on clay courts in the build-up, he struggled to adapt to the harder surface of London’s O2 Arena, crashing out in the group stages, although in retrospect those extra recovery days proved beneficial.

From the street of Dunblane to British sporting royalty, a Knighthood is destined to come his way, although preferably only after retirement has kicked in; tribute to a remarkable career.

With his first child on the way, life is rosy for a 28 year-old at the peak of his powers. He should retire from Davis Cup action immediately to focus on four final career goals;

  • Become world number one for the first time

  •  Win the French Open

  • Win the Australian Open

  • Win the ATP Tour Finals

Achieve those and his career will have a feeling of finality about it, although with the irrepressible Djokovic on the scene (and born within a week of Murray), all may not be plain sailing.

For now it’s only right that Murray should bask in the glow of arguably his most unlikely triumph to date. To cajole glory from a team that in recent years lost matches to Ecuador, Lithuania and Morocco, is an accomplishment that deserves to be savoured.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Murray and Murray = The Winning Formula?

Andy Murray and Dan Evans will carry British hopes on the final day of the Davis Cup semi-final against Australia in Glasgow.

Victory in either of their singles ties would take Great Britain through to a first final since 1978.

This follows a thrilling and potentially pivotal five-set doubles success for Andy and older brother Jamie on Saturday, as they re-focused after missing out on match point in the fourth set tie-break to vanquish Aussies Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.

Andy Murray RobinsonsSunday Service

Murray, the world number three, is likely to play world number 23 Bernard Tomic at 13.00 BST, while Dan Evans, all the way down at 300th in the rankings, will face talented teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis (world no.72), selected in place of the controversial Nick Kyrgios.

Belgium host Argentina in the other World Group semi-final in Brussels, with that tie poised at 2-1 in favour of the South Americans.


History Makers

It was 34 years ago that Britain last made the Davis Cup semi-finals, 37 years since they reached the final, and 79 years since they lifted the trophy courtesy of dream team pairing Fred Perry and Bunny Austin in 1936.

Wins over the USA and France, plus the absence of powerhouses such as Serbia, Switzerland and Spain from the semis, have raised the prospect of a 10th title.

Australia have won the Davis Cup 28 times, with veteran Hewitt, who is set to retire after this campaign, leading the way during their most recent triumph 12 years ago.


Controversial Selection

Leon Smith’s decision to select the unpredictable Evans over the more acclaimed James Ward and Kyle Edmund was a surprise, and the biggest gamble of his five-year captaincy, but almost paid dividends on day one, with the diminutive Brummie taking Tomic to the limit.

Despite this, it is two brothers who grew up in the small Scottish cathedral Town of Dunblane that have carried GB’s hopes most recently, with Andy previously winning both of his singles and the doubles with Jamie to secure victory over France at the quarter-final stage.

An Evans victory today would be a bonus, but it is the broad shoulders of Andy Murray that will once again carry the load if Great Britain is to secure the spoils and head into a shoot-out with Belgium or Argentina for the trophy.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.