Johanna Konta knows how hard it is to win a title. The British No.1 captured her first title in over four years on Sunday, defeating Zhang Shuai 6-2, 6-1 to win the Viking Open Nottingham. With the win, Konta became the first British woman to win a title on home soil since Sue Barker won Brighton in 1981.
It has been a tough stretch for Konta since winning the biggest title of her career at the 2017 Miami Open. The former World No.4 has been battling a variety of injuries since the end of the 2017 season, with the toughest one being a knee injury she has had to manage since the start of the 2019 season.
Coming into Nottingham, Konta had not won back-to-back matches since the Western & Southern Open last summer. But the former Wimbledon semifinalist has kept plugging away week after week, and her grass-court prowess came through to capture her fourth career title and first on grass.
"Not to say that you only get rewarded from winning a title, because I don't really believe in that," Konta told WTA Insider. "I don't massively believe in reward and punishment. But it is definitely a very rewarding feeling to win a title because they're hard to come by. And so I feel very grateful to have had another opportunity to win one, because there was no guarantee that I was ever going to win another one. So I definitely don't take it for granted."
Konta spoke to WTA Insider after her title run to reflect on what the Nottingham title means to her and why it's so difficult for fans and pundits to appreciate just how difficult it is to finish the week with a trophy in your hands.
WTA Insider: Every tournament has a story for every player, whether they finish with the title or not. What's the story of this tournament for you?
Konta: I think for me, it's specifically around the fact that, one, I haven't won a title in a long time, not for about four years. Especially also after the back end of 2019 with the knee issues that I've had, that was a massive learning curve for me in terms of my body, in terms of learning about my body, learning about tendon issues. They're very not straightforward, very not simple, and they're draining and they're hard. It's hard, hard work to manage them and to try to overcome them.
So I think for me, this tournament is just a very nice reminder and a very nice reward in the sense of rewarding perseverance - rewarding staying there, rewarding me continuing to try, rewarding bringing joy to the court, enjoying working with the people around me. And overall, I think also rewarding just my own choices and my own choices in life.
Not to say that you only get rewarded from winning a title, because I don't really believe in that. I don't massively believe in reward and punishment. But it is definitely a very rewarding feeling to win a title because they're hard to come by. And so I feel very grateful to have had another opportunity to win one, because there was no guarantee that I was ever going to win another one. So I definitely don't take it for granted.
WTA Insider: Is "validating" the right word?
Konta: I wouldn't say necessarily validating, just because it would mean I would need it to feel valuable and I definitely don't live this, by any means, with that in mind. I think it's just a very nice experience to have, knowing that they are not guaranteed, they are very hard to come by.
I definitely don't feel like it's a weight off my shoulders by any means or anything like that, which may actually have been more like that when I was younger because obviously winning your first title, that is a bit of a weight off, like OK, I've been able to do it. I think it's also to do with your age. Obviously, first titles come when you're younger compared to your later titles, unless you're an even later bloomer than I am, because I was quite late, obviously.
The more time you spend in this environment, the more it teaches you. The more ways in which you adapt to deal with the hardships, but also the successes. You are going to live your wins and losses differently as you get older. I guess winning this title has evolved to me as well, compared to the titles I won earlier.
For me, I think winning this one, it's a lot lighter feeling and it's much more joyous and probably less validating, probably (laughs).
WTA Insider: You talk about not taking this title for granted because there were no guarantees that you would ever win another won. At the French Open we saw Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal and then win his second Roland Garros. Barbora Krejcikova had her incredible run to her first major title after winning her first career title the week before. It's easy to forget just how hard it is to win a title, regardless of the level. Why do you think that is?
Konta: Well, I think because when you see the people who are best at what they do, they do make it look reasonably simple. No one sees the decades of physical, emotional, and mental development that you put in. No one sees the decades of hardships, of sacrifice, of suffering or joy, of achievement, all of that. No one sees that.
So people see it in the space of, let's say, even two weeks or in most cases, most people just tune into one match here or there. So they see the space of between one and four hours and the judgment is made on that specifically. I don't blame people for not understanding it, because I think it's impossible to understand it unless you do it. You are a part of that world and you are the athlete.
I think it's the same, for example, for Olympic cyclical athletes. I mean, can you imagine for them the years and years of work and the same thing that I just said, and during your career, you get maybe two to three chances to have a chance at an Olympic medal? And then you watch them swim the 50 meters and it takes about five seconds and you're like, oh that looks easy.
I think it's impossible to understand or to comprehend or to relate to it unless you do it because you wouldn't know where to start, really.
WTA Insider: The reason we tune into sports is because we love watching athletes do what we couldn't possibly comprehend, but still, everyone has opinions on it anyway.
Konta: That's the thing, and I think that's where social media and all that have made it sometimes more difficult with that. But opinions have always been there. We fought very hard for people to be able to express opinions.
So I didn't think opinions are necessarily bad. I think as long as compassion, understanding are also put into the mix when you express opinions, I think that's what's more important. I think having an opinion is absolutely fine. But just bring compassion into it when you express it.
WTA Insider: You were able to get five matches in Nottingham, which is significant given that matches on grass are at a premium. How important was it for you to make your transition from clay?
Konta: Well, the transition came sooner than I thought. I was hoping not to play Nottingham because I was hoping I'd be in Paris (laughs). But I love this tournament. So whenever I do get the chance and it makes sense for my body to be able to play Nottingham, I play it.
Every tennis player knows the value of match fitness. That was something that I definitely didn't have a lot of coming into this, having not won any consecutive matches up until this week. I definitely was just looking to keep playing and not really having any expectations other than putting myself out there to try and win matches and try and string things together and enjoy being out there. We're playing in good weather on these courts. There's a lot of joy to be taken from that.
But I think for sure, having had five matches here in a row, is great for me and something you can't practice and you can't replicate unless you're in a tournament and you are actually doing it. So in that sense, it's invaluable. I feel very happy to have been able to do it.
WTA Insider: How do you feel your body handled the physical load over the week?
Konta: I mean, physically, I'm hurting, that's for sure. My knees are very sore, my ab is a little sore. My body is definitely feeling it. But I think it's also normal. You've got to learn to manage your body and I think that's what this past kind of couple of years has really taught me very acutely with my knee, and I think it applies to all areas of the body. That's why also I pulled out of Birmingham, even though I was only in the semis at the time.
I want to ask the right questions of my body to be able to show up for things. There's no point in me asking it to do everything and then be surprised when it can't. I think it's just being smart and looking after it and doing what I can. I feel like that's what I'm working hard to find the balance of.
WTA Insider: So what are the celebration plans?
Konta: Well, I'm going to shower, get some treatment, and then I'm going to get in the car and I'm going to absolutely gun it - within the speed limit - home and just get absolutely smothered in kisses from my dogs.