MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - Johanna Konta says it's no surprise that there are a bevy of legitimate contenders for the title at the 2018 Australian Open given the growing depth and strength of the WTA Tour.
Asked at Australian Open media day about the "open" nature of the tournament, Konta paused and pushed back. "Whenever I get asked that question, it always comes across in really kind of an almost negative way instead of acknowledging how many great players we have," the Brit said. "Could we work on rephrasing that question? Let's work on this together," she said with a laugh.
"The championships is open in the sense there's so many great players. The depth in women's tennis I really do believe in the last few years has gotten so strong. You just see it in every round, in tournaments, in Slams. There's so many massive first rounds, tough second rounds. There's no straight sailing to the quarters or semis any more. It doesn't exist.
"That's not specific to a Grand Slam. That's the same in Brisbane. I played Madison Keys first round. Even Sydney I played Agnieszka.
"It's exciting for the fans that bought tickets. They know when they're coming, whatever day they bought tickets, there's going to be great matches on. I think that's exciting. That's what they pay their money for: to see an entertaining game of tennis. I think we are providing this entertainment."
Seeded No.9 in Melbourne, Konta is set to get her campaign underway on Tuesday against Madison Brengle, an opponent she's well familiar with.
"I think the last time we played was in Indian Wells, because I remember I think I beat her then," Konta said. "I think that was the first time I beat her, as well. If one thing's for sure, you never go up against her underestimating her. She is incredibly tough in the way she competes, the amount of balls she's able to get back. I'm going in preparing for a tough match."
Konta has enjoyed a solid start to her 2018 season after a strong run to the quarterfinals at the Brisbane International and tough three-set loss to Agnieszka Radwanska at the Sydney International. While she picked up a minor leg injury in Brisbane, she says the leg has pulled up well ever since.
Konta hit the wall, both physically and mentally at the end of the 2017 season. The World No.9 was force to shut down her season after the China Open due to a foot injury, narrowly missing out on a chance to qualify for her first BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. In a season that saw her win the biggest title of her career at the Miami Open and surge to the semifinals of Wimbledon, the seemingly indefatigable Brit finally wore out.
"I think besides the physical struggles I was having with my foot, which definitely hindered my ability to stay as present and as focused as I wanted to on court because of the pain I was having, the worries, and everything, that all kind of snowballed and accumulated," Konta told reporters during the Australian Open's media day.
"Then it was also just a case of my tolerance as a person. I kind of hit a bit of a wall. I kind of just wasn't able to roll with the punches really any more. It was basically just a bit overwhelming. I couldn't quite find that headspace that you need to find when you're being tested day in, day out, or trying to be at an event. I couldn't quite find that headspace that I wanted.
"Therefore, it just shows the margins are so small in these events. There's really not much in it on who comes through and who doesn't."
"But in previous years, actually stuff that you guys don't even know - because it isn't documented because no one cared - but when I was around 150 for a long time, there were periods when it was incredibly hard, where you go through emotions of whether you can still do this, whether you are even any good at this, whether it's just awful. It's easy to catastrophize a lot of things as well when you're so immersed in this bubble, which is tennis, it's really easy to kind of catastrophize everything.
"I'd like to think as I've gotten older now, I do a bit better with that. Again, if I don't take enough time, if I'm not aware enough of where I am mentally and emotionally, don't pick up on those moments where I'm going to take a day here, yeah, it can be overwhelming.
"I'm still on that learning curve. I definitely learned a lot last year. I'd like to think when I'm creeping towards kind of hitting my limit, I know I need to take maybe an afternoon off or something, and we won't get to a point where I need to take a long time off."
Shutting down her season early gave Konta time to manage her foot injury as well as an opportunity to sort out her coaching team for 2018. She parted ways with Wim Fissette and has teamed up with Michael Joyce, who formerly coached Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and Jessica Pegula. After getting her body and mind back to tip-top shape, the two set out to rebuild the Brit's game.
"He is very relaxed," Konta said. "He was a player, so he comes, with a lot of things, from the perspective of when he played as well. I think he can empathize a lot with some of the challenges and difficulties you face kind of pre-tournament, or in matches, or in practice, even in training, how you're feeling. Yeah, he can empathize with that.
"He also I think coaches with a lot of feel, a lot of kind of intuition, which I think so far I'm really enjoying spending time with."
Born in Sydney before moving to England, Konta has consistently summoned her best tennis in Australia. Her breakout came at the 2016 Australian Open when she made the semifinals and she followed it up last year with a title in Sydney and a run to the quarterfinals in Melbourne, where she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams. Konta may be Britain's best hope for the title, but she insists that she's approaching the Australian Open no differently than any other tournament. Even if the attendance at her press conferences may swell.
"I'm coming into the event like all the other events: I'm here to do the best I can with the challenge that I'm faced with. I'm here to give it my best. Where it gets me is where it gets me.
"Obviously, it would be nice to be here two weeks later, chatting to you all. I will be doing my best to be in that position."