After landing the biggest prize of her career in Miami on Saturday, Johanna Konta’s next goals are a mixture of the very grand and the very practical.
In the former category, we can place her desire to climb to No 1 in the world: an aspiration that looks like anything but a pipe dream now that her points tally for the 2017 season stands second only to that of Karolina Pliskova.
Meanwhile, the £937,000 cheque sitting in her purse has been earmarked as payback for those closest to her: father Gabor (a hotel manager) and mother Gabriella (a dentist), who shuttled the whole family around the world during her teenage years in search of the best training environment.
“I would love to get my parents a house somewhere or a place in the country,” said Konta as she enjoyed the afterglow of the Miami Open title, the most significant trophy to be claimed by a British woman since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon 40 years ago. “That’s next on the saving-for list. I’m sure a portion of my prize money will go nicely into that.”
Family is always the primary concern for Konta. At the end of her 6-4, 6-3 dismantling of Caroline Wozniacki, she noted the congratulatory messages piling up on her phone. But the first people she actually spoke to were her mother and father at their apartment in Eastbourne, where they had been following events on the TV.
“They were very happy,” she smiled. “But watching is quite nerve-racking, so they were saying, ‘We’re going for a walk now otherwise we’re going to have a heart attack.’”
Despite the comfortable-looking scoreline, there were moments of angst for Konta, who had a hard time defending her serve early on. The first set was poised at 4-4 when Wozniacki handed out a freebie that she will not want to revisit: consecutive double faults to be broken.
Once Konta had moved ahead in the second set, though, she began to look more secure. Scudding backhand drives combined with loopier top-spin forehands sent Wozniacki shuffling forlornly from side to side. The ‘clean winners’ tally, which Konta won by a massive 33 to eight, shows how consistently she dictated play.
How much further, then, can this late-blooming champion climb? Two years ago, Konta was ranked around the 150-mark, which did not even earn her a spot in the qualifying tournament here. Now she stands alongside Pliskova and world No 1 Angelique Kerber as one of the women most likely to worry Serena Williams, the 35-year-old queen bee who increasingly confines herself to the four majors.
If Konta can win six matches here, or five at the 2016 Australian Open, then why not the seven required to lift a grand-slam trophy? Particularly when women’s tennis in 2017 presents an unusually open field. Williams is mostly absent, resting her wonky knees, while Victoria Azarenka is raising a child and Maria Sharapova returns soon from a 15-month doping ban. (The most extraordinary and unpleasant case is that of Petra Kvitova, who is still recuperating from hand surgery after a knife attack.)
“I’ve always wanted to become a grand-slam champion,” said Konta on Saturday, “and to become the best in the world. Without that, the victories aren’t as sweet or the defeats as motivating.
“But it wasn’t that I was a bad tennis player before. Reaching 150 is still an incredible accomplishment. Not many people can say ‘I was top 150 in the world for something’ in any discipline. For me, it was a question of maturity. I needed to go through certain life experiences, and not just on the court, to make me into the competitor that I am, and also the person.”
Konta has never been a showy character. You could draw an interesting contrast between her low profile on social media and the constant stream of images posted by Heather Watson, the other British woman to win WTA titles in the last 30 years.
Admittedly, Konta’s sudden prosperity has finally led her to exchange her old Peugeot hatchback for a natty red number provided by her sponsor, Jaguar. She has also bought a place of her own at last, a London apartment with a view of the Thames. But after her latest property speculation in East Sussex the balance of her winnings will be reinvested in her support staff, led by the understated Belgian coach Wim Fissette.
Having celebrated Saturday’s success with a photoshoot at the Cape Florida lighthouse, Konta packed her bags for this week’s event in Charleston, South Carolina. In her first clay-court outing of the year she will start as second seed behind Madison Keys.
“I’m healthy and I feel good,” said Konta when asked whether she had considered resting up for a few days instead. “Unless I’m physically unable to compete, once I commit to something I look to follow through on it.”
She also rejects the idea that the switch of surface will sap her momentum. Although Konta has enjoyed negligible success in WTA clay-court events – just two victories to date – this can be explained by a lack of opportunity: before last season, she had never been ranked high enough to participate.
“Until recently,” she said, “most of my Challenger wins were on clay, so I don’t necessarily think it’s a surface that I’m uncomfortable on. It’s more that I’m playing against higher quality players, so it’s just another learning curve, working out how to adapt.”
Learning, and incremental improvement, lie at the heart of the Konta world view. “This is the biggest title of my career,” she said on Saturday. “It’s a monumental time, and it motivates me to keep trying to get better. It’s a great moment not just for myself but also for my team, my family. The best way to describe it is as a pat on the back for all the hard work that has continuously been put in.”