Johanna Konta can't remember her life without tennis. But she's looking forward to what lies beyond the green pastoral settings of the sport, where she left no stone unturned in a decade-long career that saw her become the standard-bearer for women's tennis in Great Britain.
Konta, 30, announced her retirement Wednesday, closing the book on a hard-fought successful career that saw her become the first British woman to rank in the Top 5 since 1984, rising to No.4 in 2017. "Process" has been a key word for Konta as she dealt with the highs and lows of being one of the game's elite, and it's no surprise she took her time in coming to the decision to hang up her racquets, a process that has was taken over her final season.
"I wanted to sit with my feelings and emotions and give myself time in coming to the decision," Konta told WTA Insider from her home in England. "That process has also given me some peace with it because by no means does my retiring mean that I don't like the sport anymore or that I can't see myself play anymore.
"Even sitting here, I miss playing. I miss that life because it's the only life I've known since I have memory. So it's interesting detangling yourself from something that you've just been attached to for so long."
Ultimately, as Konta took the time to assess her career and her future, she accepted the fact that her tank had finally run out.
"For me, it's just about putting my emotional, mental, physical well-being in the position to put that energy and work in to be able to do that. It's that link of being able to convince yourself to be in pain. I just ran out of steam for it.
"So when you get to that point, you can't put your best self on display because you haven't put in the work for it and you just don't have the energy to put in the work for it."
Konta was a three-time major semifinalist, reaching the final four at 2016 Australian Open, 2017 Wimbledon, and 2019 Roland Garros. Konta captured the biggest of her four titles at the WTA 1000 event in Miami in 2017, defeating Simona Halep, Venus Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki in succession. Her last title came this summer, winning in Nottingham.
Champions Corner: Konta takes nothing for granted in Nottingham title
Through it all, Konta was an early advocate for mental health in sports. She credited her mid-career turnaround - she is the first to remind you she spent the majority of her career on the ITF Pro Circuit - to the work she did with her mental coach, Juan Coto, who gave her invaluable tools not just for tennis, but life. It was an arduous climb for Konta, but one that she says she would not trade for anything. The sacrifices and turmoil outweighed the ultimate triumphs, but her journey forged her into the woman she is today, one she is nothing but proud of.
"I'm a poster child for people who ever feel too old to make it in anything," Konta said. "I'm a poster child for people who have been told they're nothing special or not that good or that their time is gone or they don't show that much promise. I'm a poster child for those players and those people who just base their career on resilience and on hard work."
In Part I of her three-part interview with WTA Insider, Konta details her decision-making process and how she knew it was time to start her next chapter.
WTA Insider: How did you come to the decision to retire?
Konta: This has not been a decision that has been made in the last half an hour and it's not something even that's been made in the last two months. This is something that took some time to get to. I wanted to give it time to see if this is actually what I want to do or if it's just a tough period. There are so many times in your career where you could very easily be like, Nope, not having any of this anymore [laughs].
I wanted to sit with my feelings and emotions and give myself time in coming to the decision. That process has also given me some peace with it because by no means does my retiring mean that I don't like the sport anymore or that I can't see myself play anymore. Even sitting here, I miss playing. I miss that life because it's the only life I've known since I have memory. So it's interesting detangling yourself from something that you've just been attached to for so long.
I was with my mom at Wimbledon not that long ago and she was just like, "Oh my goodness, I'm never going to see you play here again, it's been such a big part of my life." I'm like, "Exactly, mom." But it was a part of your life. It's been my whole life. That's an interesting thing for me to realize, that I actually don't have any memories of not doing what I've done.
So I am literally in a situation where I have to reinvent myself or re-find myself in the world, in life, in my life, with purpose and interests and ability. It's a very daunting and scary thing, but it just feels right. Because when I think, OK, I'm going to get back out there, even when I miss it and think to start again, I'm like ... no.
WTA Insider: Does it feel like an amicable breakup?
Konta: I think mourning is a good word to describe part of it because it is kind of like a breakup, but the only thing I'd say that is different is it wasn't a moment that happened and then I dealt with it. I was still playing through all these feelings and all these thoughts for pretty much the whole year. So this was not a decision and done. It was little decisions. It was little moments and it was literally time.
But for sure, even now sitting here I think of going to Australia, playing, being in the sunshine, playing the tournament. I will never think on that part of this existence as like, "Oh, no, that's terrible," because that is literally what you dream of as a young child who wants to become a professional tennis player. You dream of going to these tournaments. You dream of playing in those conditions, in the heat, in the sun and people around. If you ever not want to do that as a tennis player, I mean, that's a very hard existence.
But for me, it's just about putting my emotional, mental, physical well-being in the position to put that energy and work in to be able to do that. It's that link of being able to convince yourself to be in pain. I just ran out of steam for it.
So when you get to that point, you can't put your best self on display because you haven't put in the work for it and you just don't have the energy to put in the work for it.
It asks a lot of you to play at your best. It asks a lot of you, not just in the results, but in the judgment of others. When I go into the office, everyone and their dog has an opinion. When you feel prepared to make that investment, that's just a part of the job.
But once you feel like you can't, then I think that's when it's like, well, I can't actually do this how I want to do it. I can't. I can't give my all for this because I just don't have it anymore to give.
WTA Insider: When I spoke to Julia Goerges last year and Kiki Bertens this year, they said very similar things. The motivation to play tournaments on big courts against the best isn't what's lacking. It's about the sacrifices you all have to make behind the scenes to get there and whether or not, at this stage in your lives, it's possible or worth it.
Konta: Exactly. And I think that's a nice narrative to actually hear other players say that because it is that part that takes all of you. You give yourself to this job, to this existence to be able to do what people see.
Nowadays, if you don't have that anymore, then you can't do that because you're actually not going to be good enough. There are very few players in history that can half-ass it. Very, very few. And I probably would say just a handful of players who can just show up but their God-given talent is so huge that they can get away with a lot of it.
For 99% of the players, there's that sacrifice. You're doing your little dance around the fire, sacrificing to the gods.
WTA Insider: When did the decision to retire really hit home for you? Or has it?
Konta: I remember when I got back from the U.S., that's where it kind of culminated and where I felt like the decision was coming. Not too long after that, I felt like I was making the decision. I held my racquet because I was putting it away and I started crying.
So in that sense, it is a breakup. But it is amicable because I don't look back on my career and judge it according to everything that it took from me to achieve it. I do look back on it and just see everything that it gave me and everything it's allowed me to experience. I definitely see it like that, not on the negative side of what it took to experience those things.