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Tennis From Cincinnati | New York • Jo Konta Looks Impressive As All Around Her Look Frail


Johanna Konta of Great Britain taps the racquet of Vera Zvonareva of Russia after defeating her during their third round match at the Western and Southern Open.

By Alix Ramsay

Covering tournaments remotely is a strange experience. Normally, at this time of year, my British colleagues and I would be either on our way to – or already in – New York for the start of the US Open.

Instead, we find ourselves stuck at home and watching the relocated Cincinnati event on TV as it is played out in Queens, NY. We are all suffering the usual jetlag (the five-hour time difference means that you are starting you working day at 4pm at the earliest and who knows when you will finish) but none of us are having the fun of being in the Big Apple.

In normal times in NY, you can get on the bus at 3am, get back to the city at 3.30am (3.15am if the driver puts his foot down – as he often does at that time of night) and always find a bar to go to, a diner to eat at, a place to chill and relax…happy days.

When you are stuck in Ramsay Towers in Weybridge, you watch a match finish at gone midnight (with the headphones, natch, in so as not to disturb the neighbours) and once the presser is over an hour later, you kick back, look at your watch and think ‘rats, I’ve nothing in the fridge, I’ve run out of tonic and the electrician is coming here at 8am to fix the shower…’ It is not particularly glamourous. Added to which, the neighbours think I’m some sort of vampiric weirdo.

But watching an American tournament on British TV (albeit streamed TV) gives a whole new view of the event. When you are there, there is an ebb and flow to every day. You wake up when the players wake up (well, may be an hour or so later); you live in their time zone. Not now.

Amazon Prime Video’s tennis coverage in the UK.

For us Brits, we have Amazon Prime to guide us and lead us through the Western and Southern Open. And what it tells us is that everything revolves around the Brits. They have Tim Henman, Laura Robson, Annabel Croft, Mark Petchey – former British No.1s all – to talk us through it and the general consensus is that Johanna Konta is looking pretty good.

She marmalised Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-2 on Tuesday as the wind picked up and the temperatures hit the 90s. After eight games of feeling each other out and getting used to the conditions, Jo-Ko (she is not fond of being called Jo but she still has Jo-Ko emblazoned on her shoes. Best call her Johanna if you are on a first meeting) upped the ante and bossed the encounter. She had not missed a step since beating Kirsten Flipkens the day before and no matter that Zvonareva was a far more difficult opponent, she was zoned in.

There are times when Konta can make tennis look so easy; the times when she sets up a shot so well that it seems that she can go off and make a cup of tea and a sarnie and still return in time to wallop the winner. She can get so low to a shot that it seems that she will scuff her knees and need the medic to repair the damage.

When her A-game is working, it looks as if no one can stop her. But that can be the point that Jo-Ko can stop herself. Not always; just sometimes. And that is the great unfathomable with her. But when she is on her A-game, our British Konta can be unstoppable.

Johanna Konta hits a return to Vera Zvonareva.

Back with the Amazon crew, Tiger Tim was cautious before the match. His argument was that she can ‘overthink’ things.

It seems that his proof of this was when he commentated on his first women’s match last summer at the US Open (he had always played safe with the blokes before). Alongside Annabel, he could not quite believe that Jo-Ko could hit five outrageous winners and then tie herself up in knots. Ah, welcome to the wild and whacky world of women’s tennis.

It is just that women’s tennis is more unpredictable than men’s tennis and Tim had never had to speak about this publicly. And before anyone mails in to complain, let us just make the point that the unpredictability simply makes it different, not worse or better. Just unpredictably different. Tim had never dealt with this before.

But after blitzing Flipkens and flattening Zvonareva, there was a quiet acknowledgment in the studio that Jo-Ko, in this sort of form, could do serious damage both at the Cincy event and the US Open.

Last year, Konta, a former world No.4, reached two quarter-finals and two semi-finals in the grand slams. And this while coping with a serious knee issue – tendinitis, as far as we know; she doesn’t let on too much. That injury halted her progress at the start of this year and did for her confidence. But in this weird year of lockdown and suspension of the tours, she has had the time to regroup and heal.

Now working with Thomas Hogstedt, once a coach of Maria Sharapova, she is finally fit and seems ready and able to get back to her former heights. But Hogstedt is a stubborn cuss…as is Konta. Where will this lead?

Konta’s New Coach Thomas Hogstedt.

When Hogstedt worked with Shazza, the five-time grand slam champion refused to deal with him away from the courts (Shazz has a sense of humour and likes to relax; Hogstedt? Not so much). How Konta deals with him in the long term, who knows. For now, though, all seems well.

Konta has recycled her coaches almost annually. She parted ways with Dimitry Zavialoff a few months ago because the Frenchman no longer wanted to travel as much due to family commitments. He was the last in a long line of mentors who have taken so far but, for her, not far enough. Whether Hogstedt can go that one step beyond, we wait to see.

“This is the third week I have spent with him,” Konta said of her new coach.

“So, in terms of what he’s bringing to the table, I think it’s very much a work in progress. When the name came up with Thomas being available, that was exciting for me, and so that’s why we are here where we are right now.

“I think we are still trying to figure out on how we work together. I’m listening intently to him on kind of his view on things, on court for me and just in general. So I’m enjoying that progress of just getting to know each other for now.”

Johanna Konta looks unstoppable.

“To be honest, I’m taking it kind of day by day, and I’m enjoying getting to know him now. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s had a lot of success with a lot of players. Obviously that’s going to be for a reason, but it doesn’t always guarantee that obviously certain people match up well.

“I think I’m giving it every opportunity for it to work out well, and I don’t see why it can’t. But then also I’m leaving space for both of us to be ourselves and to make sure it works for both of us.”

Bit back in the Amazon studio, regardless of what happens between Jo-Ko and Hogstedt in the future, the general view is that whoever comes through between Britain’s No.1 and either Serena Williams or Maria Sakkari on Wednesday, could be the champion of Cincy (by way of New York) come Friday night.

Amazon Prime may be wholly Brit-centric but, in this case, they may just be on to something.