It has been a short-lived visit to Madrid again for Johanna Konta, still looking to find her clay-court feet this season. Drawn against Stuttgart champion Laura Siegemund were the tail-end charlies on a day when every preceding match on a ridiculously packed Centre Court schedule went to three sets.
Madrid, at altitude, has a reputation for being fairly quick as the balls fly through the air, but no such luck on the opening weekend at the Caja Magica and although Konta struck decisively in the opening set, leaving it all for Siegemund to do.
But you do not get to be the Stuttgart champion on your second attempt without having some skills on the dirt, as the hardy souls who stayed for the match found out.
Konta joked: “I think the biggest troupers, were the 10 people who watched…. There were 40?? I think they did solid, pretty impressive!
“It’s the way it is sometimes, it was slightly unfortunate. Every match was over two hours, so it was one of those things you can’t predict. But both of us were in the same boat. It was actually quite sad, because we played quite a good match, entertaining, good match. It was a pity no-one knew we had played!”
It is not as if she cannot play on the stuff – her first ITF title was on clay, she has two and a final to her name in the early part of her career before her more notable successes on the main tour.
She feels there has been progress though, as she explained: To be honest, I think it was probably the best match I’ve played so far this clay season. I think I learned from my last week in Stuttgart, think I’m constantly building on the experience of the surface and trying to apply what I do well and adapt certain things.
“Overall I think it was good match, a hard-fought match, and she’s playing with quite a bit of match fitness, not just Stuttgart but the semis in Charleston. She’s a great player so it’s not just her momentum… one of the mentally most tough players on the tour and she’s tricky on clay.
I’m quite happy with the performance. There are things I’d like to do better and hopefully I’ll get a few matches in Rome to keep building on that, but overall it’s moving in the right direction”
It contributed to the signing up for doubles with Shelby Rogers, but they also were first round casualties. With almost a week before the start of Rome, where she made the third round, she and the team need to decide what is the best approach.
She said: “I haven’t spoken to my coaches yet, so we are going to chat about the next few days, whether we stay here, go to Rome, or go back home for a little bit. Yes, last year got to play three good matches there, this year is a different year so hopefully as many matches as I can play the better.”
While the topic of conversation certainly around the ATP event this year continues to focus on the dramatic coaching changes to Novak Djokovic’s team, Konta is quite happy with how her own coaching change has progressed.
Her progression through to the upper echelons of the WTA rankings was originally orchestrated by Esteban Carril, but at the end of 2016 the pair mutually agreed to split.
‘Surrounded by really positive people’
She is now under the watchful gaze of Wim Fissette, who guided Kim Clijsters to Slam victories and also worked with Victoria Azarenka and briefly with Simona Halep.
They enjoyed success early on with Konta’s win in Brisbane, and her latest (and largest) title winning the Miami Open. While other players subject the tennis viewing public to exchanges more awkward than the worst first date you could ever imagine, Konta and Fissette seem to remain an oasis of calm.
Konta explained: “I think we’ve really developed a great team. I think all of us are really very unified in our approach and I think very clear on the way we want to grow and keep developing, and I’m surrounded by really positive people so that’s something that’s really good for me. Just generally happy and good humoured people, so I think that those things are pretty key for me in the functioning team.
“I always look to call [Fissette] down also when I am in a receptive frame of mind. For me, I mean there’ll be times when, you know, it’s emotional out there, there’s tension, so it’s bound to happen where you unload a bit without even meaning to.
“But I always try to be clear-headed when he comes down because essentially he’s coming down to help me. He’s coming down to give me perspective with things that I can’t necessarily see in the match, but he can see from the outside, so I think the more open I stay when he comes down, the better for me to listen to the information, and the better for him that he can actually pass it on.”
Konta will next play in Rome, which takes place between 14-21 May.
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