After a phenomenally successful Wimbledon for Jo Konta (she’d never made it past the second round before) it was intriguing to see a player with a reputation for a strong mental approach capitulate to Venus Williams.
To put this in context, Williams, at 37, is obviously very experienced with five Wimbledon singles titles to her name. However, their head to head, prior to this match, was 3-2 in favour of Konta. So, while they had never played on grass before, Konta was far from the underdog.
Let’s not take anything away from Venus, she was the better player and dealt with everything Konta through at her exceptionally well. Konta, in her post match press conference, talked about Venus dictating play from the outset. However, that belies what happens in a match between two high quality players. At 4 all in the first set there was little to choose between the two and in the next game Konta put Venus’s serve under pressure. How often it is that after a closely held service game the next game results in a break and so it was. From then on the pressure told and Venus ran out the winner 6-4 6-2.
There were a couple of notable things that happened in the second set – firstly as the pressure told Konta’s groundstrokes became more conservative, for the most part, where she had previously been moving Venus around, she played much more within the court. Secondly, other than that, there was little change to her game.
John McEnroe, earlier in the week, commented in a different context, that one of his coaches had said that he should not give his opponent the same shot twice. Interestingly, Konta’s average groundstoke speed prior to yesterday, over the tournament, was a couple of miles per hour faster than Andy Murray’s. This is not because Konta can hit harder than Murray but that Murray varies the pace and spin of his shots far more, making it difficult for his opponent to get into a rhythm.
There was a point in the second set yesterday where Konta chipped a short return in, which Venus stepped into and hit long. Martina Navratilova, commenting on BBC, noted it and the need for a change up but nothing more came. Throwing in the occasional short slice may well have disrupted Venus but other than the one instance there was nothing, so Konta seemed not to be assessing what did and didn’t work.
A lot has been made of the processes that Konta has put in place with the aid of a mental coach and relies on to strengthen her and build the positivity to her approach. However, there was something more needed yesterday, some variation to unsettle her opponent. Top players tend to be good at probing and assessing where the weaknesses occur with their opponents, this element seemed to be missing from Konta’s game yesterday.
On the other hand, we should celebrate that Konta did indeed do exceptionally well over the two weeks of Wimbledon, this is the second time she has made the semis of a slam and certainly has the capability to be involved right to the end.