STANFORD, CA, USA - Johanna Konta notched her first WTA title by denying Venus Williams her 50th. On Sunday the British No.1 prevailed in a tough toe-to-toe battle with Venus, winning, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 to win the Bank of the West Classic.
The win caps off an incredible 12-month span for the 25-year-old Eastbourne resident. Last July, Konta was ranked No.126 after a first round loss at Wimbledon, and went on an absolute tear on the North American hardcourts. She won back-to-back titles on the ITF circuit and would go 16-0 during the summer, including a successful qualifying campaign at the US Open, before losing to Petra Kvitova in the fourth round in New York.
That momentum continued in the fall, where she made the quarterfinals of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, beating top seed Simona Halep en route. Then, of course, came the biggest result of her career in January, when she pounded her way to her first major semifinal at the Australian Open.
Through it all, Konta had still yet to make a WTA final, let alone win a title. She rolled into Stanford ranked No.18 and seeded No.3. But after playing two fantastic matches to beat the top two seeds in Dominika Cibulkova and Venus, Konta has now moved into the Top 15, at No.14 and she sits at No.8 in the Road to Singapore.
If the season ended today, Johanna Konta, ranked outside the Top 125 a year ago, would be heading to the WTA Finals. What a climb.
WTA Insider caught up with Konta after her big win in Stanford.
WTA Insider: So how does it feel to accomplish such a big milestone, to win your first WTA title, a Premier title no less?
Konta: It feels pretty exciting, I have to say. It's everything to do with today. It's not just a final. I was playing against Venus Williams, such a champion. I was playing in a Premier tournament, as well. It was quite a lot of things. I'm really happy with how I was able to deal with that and really appreciate the situation for what it was and really be grateful and humbled by it. I'm just looking forward to reinvesting this experience that I gained today into future matches in my career.
WTA Insider: You talk a lot about learning from experience. What does this week teach you?
Konta: Specifically, when I'll be on the match court again, who knows, on Tuesday in Montréal, maybe I'll be in the a similar situation as I experienced today or I experienced yesterday, just be able to, even if it's just for a millisecond, reflect on that, keep myself that much calmer. You know what I've been there, just stay calm and keep fighting. It's just a lot of reassurance that whatever happens I can handle it.
WTA Insider: You had a set and a 4-1 lead in the final and let that second set slip away. What did you tell yourself between the second and third set?
Konta: I think it was really important to keep things in perspective. Venus Williams is a champion for reason. Champions raise their game. Champions are not going to give you a match just because they're 4-1 down in the second. I was really going to have to win it and really have to stay out there and do my time and really simplify things. I think coming back it was really considering every single point a battle and win as many battles as possible.
WTA Insider: What is it about your match-up with Venus that produces such exciting matches? You two had played twice and split those meetings, and now you lead the head-to-head 2-1.
Konta: I think that just happens in tennis. You have certain match-ups and game-styles that create more compelling matches. I consider myself incredibly lucky if that's how you see it, that I'm able to play such entertaining matches, share the court with Venus Williams, and entertain the people who come watch. That's incredibly humbling. So thank you, that's an incredible compliment. I said in my speech after that I really look forward to the many battles that I hope to have against her.
WTA Insider: Reflecting on the last 12 months. How do you put it all perspective? I know you're a level-headed person but this has been a remarkable career-turnaround.
Konta: I guess from the outside it looks different than how I lived it because I lived every single day of it - also the previous 17 years. I think for me it felt very much like a progression and it continues to feel that way. For me I hope this is not the pinnacle of my career, I really am humbled by the experience to have this, but I'm also really motivated to reinvest this into my career and to keep helping me push forward and keep rising to the top of my sport.
WTA Insider: So what is your motivation? Do you set goals for yourself?
Konta: I don't set myself any outcome goals. It's very much a personal development thing. It's about trying my best to not make the same mistake twice, or dealing better with situations. One match I didn't do well with it, do my best in the next time in that situation, I'm going to do better. Even on the practice court, being able to deal with situations better and better.
WTA Insider: What's the last situation you remember where you felt like you did not handle a situation on court well?
Konta: I do try to take the positive out of every experience and also, quite honestly, not beat myself up over it. If I'm too inexperienced in a situation, that's just the way it is. That's not something I can control, that's only something I can learn from. I think my experience in the semifinal of the Australian Open was an unbelievable experience and something I never experienced before. I think whenever you have a first, that's always going to have the deepest impact. It's basically being thrown into the deep end and then, 'Swim!'
WTA Insider: Well you're swimming ok. So far it seems like you're keeping your head above water pretty well.
Konta: I'm trying. I'm dog paddling [laughs].
WTA Insider: You're up to No.8 in the Road To Singapore. I know it's a long way off, but what would qualifying for the WTA Finals mean to you?
Konta: It's definitely a far way off but if it's in the cards for me, if it's something I am able to achieve that would be unbelievable. For now it's definitely a result of things that happened this year. Right now it's about my health. It's a quick turnaround between here and Montréal so it's about getting myself prepared to play again on Tuesday and really take it from there.
WTA Insider: So are you going to actually take the time to enjoy this? Or is it just boarding a plane and heading to Canada now?
Konta: I've already said I'm planning to go to In n Out. So I'm going to enjoy that. But I mean the more present you keep yourself the more appreciative you are of the moment in time. So I'm just going to my best to not look too far ahead and to just take care of things as best I can in the here and now and just appreciate it for what it is.
WTA Insider: What's your go-to order at In n Out and are you aware of the secret menu?
Konta: I heard about this secret menu and I'm disappointed in myself I didn't figure it out earlier! Seriously! I heard about this and I was like what? But I'm a normal cheeseburger kind of person. So maybe... two of them. And fries.
WTA Insider: A strawberry milkshake to wash it down?
Konta: Oh that might be difficult for me because I don't like strawberry flavor.
WTA Insider: Well there are other options, like chocolate and vanilla.
Konta: I've never had a milkshake, so maybe today's the day!
Here more from Konta in the lastest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.