Johanna Konta: How GB's new number one is fulfilling a dream
Johanna Konta will fulfil a childhood dream when she takes on Venus Williams in the quarter-finals of the Wuhan Open on Thursday.
Ranked 150 in the world at the start of the year, the 24-year-old will become the British number one next week as she breaks into the world's top 50 on the back of a remarkable run of results.
Konta claimed the biggest win of her career against world number two Simona Halep in China on Wednesday, the Briton's 21st victory in 22 matches since Wimbledon.
She is a strong contender to win the WTA's Most Improved Player award and, after many years of flitting between the main tour and the lower ITF circuit, is now set to qualify directly for the biggest tournaments.
"I'm a firm believer that there are going to be ebbs and flows, nothing goes on forever and I'm not really thinking ahead or behind," she told BBC Sport.
"I do like to stay in the present because that's the only thing I have a certain control over. I won and get to come back against Venus Williams, which is a bit of a childhood dream - I grew up watching her play.
"But as a competitor, I'm just really looking forward to the challenge. She's a multi Grand Slam champion for a reason."
'The mental side is huge'
Konta has been a study in serenity over recent months, calmly seeing off the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka, Andrea Petkovic and now Halep, among others.
It is a far cry from the player who, until her run to the US Open fourth round earlier this month, had only won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam.
The improvement has come since the Lawn Tennis Association cut her funding last year, prompting Konta to relocate her training base to northern Spain under the guidance of coaches Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia.
"Her ability to play has always been there," said former British number one Anne Keothavong.
"She's always had a good serve, a great backhand, and she's always been a good athlete.
"She's been playing much better but I think the mental side is huge for a tennis player, and that's what makes the difference between those right at the top and those in the middle."
'To get there is one thing'
London-based Spaniard Juan Coto became the name on everyone's lips in New York earlier this month, much to Konta's amusement, as she explained the role her mental coach has played.
Asked if the pair were still communicating via WhatsApp while she is in China, Konta said: "I'm in touch with my whole team every single day and he's part of that team, so yeah, he checks in."
GB Fed Cup captain Judy Murray has described how Konta suffered with "performance anxiety" as recently as their last tie in February, but within six months she had found a level of inner steel that took her through qualifying and deep into a Grand Slam.
"To get there is one thing, maintaining it is another," said Keothavong.
"Just to stay focused - that's what she was able to do incredibly well, particularly with all the buzz and the excitement going on around her. In that type of an environment at a Grand Slam, to stay focused is a tough thing to do because all the other demands become quite draining."
'Maybe I have little moments'
Process, present, humbled and blessed - these have been the words Konta has used to navigate her way through these extraordinary few months.
Her commitment to focusing solely on the next obstacle in her path has been such that it raises the question, is she able to enjoy what she is achieving?
"Obviously there's the initial enjoyment of being able to get through and having played a really good match, but it's very much about getting myself recovered," she said.
|Anne Keothavong, former British number one|
|"I think it's a much bigger deal climbing up the world rankings than it is being the British number one. It's a nice thing to say that you are, but the main focus for Konta is to keep performing against these top players and keep doing what she's doing.|
|"Having seen the way she's playing, there's no reason she can't break the world top 20 and compete at the very top level. She's got the physique, the athletic ability, the tennis, and clearly the right mindset."|
"Maybe I have little moments here and there when I'm sitting on the bus listening to my music, when I reflect on some of the nice emotions that I've felt in the last few months, and the nice experiences I've had.
"But in terms of results I'm very much in the here and now, enjoying the matches I'm able to play here. I feel very lucky I'm able to come back tomorrow, try my best and see where it takes me."
'I guess she doesn't fret as much'
The revelation on her WTA page that Konta enjoys knitting and crocheting is apparently very out of date, but Keothavong describes the new British number one as "quite quirky".
Keothavong suggests Konta is "more of a book girl" now, adding: "She's always kind of been in her own little bubble off the court, that's Jo for you, but her focus has been channelled into the right areas and it's working.
"We used to practise together at the National Tennis Centre quite frequently and she's always been quite intense, quite meticulous, but I guess she doesn't fret quite as much as she used to.
"She's quite unassuming and gets on with her own thing. I don't think there are too many outside distractions, which is good."
'It's a very exciting time'
Konta is projected to rise to 49 in the world next week, with the prospect of an even bigger jump should she beat Williams.
Either way, Konta will pass Heather Watson and take over as British number one, while at the same time putting herself in position to concentrate fully on the top-level WTA Tour.
After the Wuhan Open, she will travel to Beijing for next week's China Open.
"It's a very exciting time for me," she said. "I get to play events that I haven't played before; I haven't been in Wuhan before and I haven't been to Beijing.
"Next year I'll have a lot of new experiences, so I've got a lot to look forward to. That's wherever I'm playing, whether it is back playing (ITF) $25Ks again or the full WTA schedule. As long as I'm healthy I consider myself pretty lucky that I get to do something like this.
"I wake up every day and try to become better and stronger and just enjoy the process."