Tennis

Johanna Konta caps unlikely run with Miami Open crown

Johanna Konta of Great Britain kisses her trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, 6-4, 6-3, to win the women's singles final at the 2017 Miami Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne on April 1, 2017.
Johanna Konta of Great Britain kisses her trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, 6-4, 6-3, to win the women's singles final at the 2017 Miami Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne on April 1, 2017. El Nuevo Herald

Just when women’s tennis could use a charismatic fresh face with a big game, along comes Johanna “Jo” Konta of Great Britain, a 25-year-old late bloomer born in Australia to Hungarian immigrants.

Two years ago, Konta wasn’t ranked high enough to qualify for the Miami Open. On Saturday afternoon, she won the tournament title on Key Biscayne with a 6-4, 6-3 win over former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

After collecting her trophy and $1 million prize, Konta said the one thing she wanted more than anything was a bowl of her mother’s “Meggyleves,” a Hungarian chilled sour cherry soup.

“My mum usually only makes it over Christmas, but if I’m lucky she’ll make some for me after this,” said Konta, who sounds perfectly British, with a bit of an Australian twang, but speaks Hungarian at home.

Unbeknownst to most of the fans baking in the midday sun at Stadium Court on Saturday, Konta’s victory was more than just the latest milestone in her long and winding tennis journey. It was historic.

Her title was the biggest by a British woman since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977. With the win, Konta moves up to No. 7 in the world rankings, which is the highest for a British woman since another Jo, Jo Durie, reached No. 5 in July 1984. Since Durie retired in 1995, all the tennis headlines from Great Britain have come from the men — Tim Henman and Andy Murray.

But Konta has been getting her share of the spotlight since last year. Her ranking skyrocketed from No. 150 to No. 10 from 2014 to 2016, and last year she was voted the WTA Most Improved Player. In January, Konta cruised past Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1 in the third round of the Australian Open and became the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 32 years.

At the Miami Open, she upset No. 3 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals and No. 11 Venus Williams in the semifinals. On Saturday, she had 33 winners to eight for Wozniacki and was never really in danger of losing the match.

“At the end of the day, she played a little bit better than me, and she deserved the win,” Wozniacki said.

Konta plans to use part of her prize money to help pay for a country home for her parents, Gabor, a hotel manager, and Gabriella, a dentist. She also will splurge on concert tickets. An avid concert-goer, she recently bought tickets for Dua Lipa, an English artist, and this summer is treating her mother to a Celine Dion concert for her birthday.

Asked about her meteoric rise from fringe player to potential Grand Slam contender, Konta says it is the culmination of many years of hard work. When she was 12 years old, she won the district title in the 800 meters and could have been a competitive runner, but she chose to stick with tennis. Konta has sports in the genes — her grandfather Tamas Kertesz played pro soccer and coached the Ghana national team.

When she was 14, her family decided to send her to train in Barcelona at the Sanchez-Casal Academy. She also trained for a while at the Roddick Academy in Austin that is run by Andy’s brother, John. But she wound up in England, training in Eastbourne.

In 2012, she became a British citizen and now represents her adopted country.

“My journey was just different from everybody, I guess,” Konta said. “I think for me, it was just about time and patience and also determination to really stick with the process and focus on my work.”

She says as the sport has gotten more physical it is not so unusual to see a woman in her mid-20s making a breakthrough.

“I mean, it wasn’t that I was a bad tennis player before,” she said.

“For many people reaching 150, inside 200, 250, it’s still an incredible accomplishment and something you can say that I was top 150 in the world for something. Not many people can say that in any discipline or any job. I don’t think it was that much of an anomaly. I think I just kept doing what I love and that’s working hard.”

▪ Sixth-seeded Marcelo Melo of Brazil and Lukasz Kubot of Poland won the men’s doubles title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over unseeded Americans Jack Sock and Nicholas Monroe. Melo and Kubot were playing in their 11th tournament together and got a boost from the Brazilian fans in the crowd.

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