Johanna Konta is preparing for the biggest match of her life on Saturday against former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Her reaction to reaching the Miami Open final? “Yay, I made it to the end. Woo!”
Konta still has a touch of the wide-eyed ingénue about her, and no wonder. On this equivalent weekend two years ago, she was in Jackson, Mississippi, for a $25,000 tournament where her first opponent was ranked No. 1,171 in the world.
Her story is a sporting fairytale. When Telegraph Sport first interviewed her in 2012, she was still excited to have met Venus Williams on the practice courts at Wimbledon, and to be wearing kit from the Williams clothing collection EleVen. “Venus was one of the players I watched when I was growing up,” she said, “so I felt like a little girl going out to hit with her.”
Five years on, she holds a 3-1 head-to-head record against her former idol, who seems to bring out the strengths in her own rugged game. “Every time we've played I have been able to raise my level,” she said on Thursday night, in a tone of slight surprise. It was certainly her best performance of a tournament that has found her scraping past the unheralded Aliaksandra Sasnovich in her first match, and then standing two points from defeat against Simona Halep on Wednesday.
There is a simplicity in facing Williams, whose only method is to go at you full bore from the first shot. Opponents are best advised to beat her to the punch, and Konta used attack as the best form of defence in this 6-4, 7-5 victory.
Wozniacki presents a different sort of challenge, being far more mobile while possessing only a fraction of Williams’s firepower. Yet that is no reason for Konta to throttle back on the aggression. When these two players met in the third round of January’s Australian Open, the rallies were memorably one-sided. Konta served bombs and drove her opponent relentlessly into the corners, while Wozniacki’s desperate retrievals only postponed the inevitable as she went down to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat in just 75 minutes.
“Against Caroline, I'm definitely going to be looking forward to playing a lot of balls and a lot of tough points,” said Konta. “She's one of the best athletes in the game. She ran a marathon for goodness sake.”
Wozniacki’s best asset here is her experience, having won 25 WTA titles and played in no fewer than 44 finals. For Konta, the equivalent figures are two and three. But at least she has reached this stage of a comparable-sized event before, when finishing as runner-up to Agnieszka Radwanska at the China Open in Beijing last year.
Both Miami and Beijing count as WTA Premier Mandatory tournaments, but as Konta put it on Friday: “Miami has more history. I will try to enjoy this final [because] in Beijing, I may not have enjoyed the whole experience as much as I would've liked.”
Like any professional athlete, Konta has endured plenty of knockbacks. Yet she keeps forging onward, and adding new weaponry to her repertoire, with the latest development being a subtle drop volley. Against Williams – a serial doubles champion with a killer volley of her own – Konta was the more ambitious player when it came to rushing the net. Some of the sallies worked brilliantly, others backfired, but it was the bold intent that mattered.
Now, as we approach the end of the early-season hard-court swing, Konta has earned a minimum of 1,725 rankings points in 2017 –more than she had collected by the end of Wimbledon last year. A win on Saturday would promote her to No. 7 in the world rankings; a defeat takes her to No. 9. But either position would represent a career-best, and with few points to defend over the clay-court season, Konta's graph continues to point upwards.