Any fears that Johanna Konta might be scarred by her untidy exit from the French Open were quickly wiped away on Monday. Having surged to a comfortable 6-4, 6-2 defeat over her near namesake Anett Kontaveit, Konta told reporters “I didn't spend too much time thinking about what-ifs.”
Konta’s Parisian adventure could be perceived in a variety of ways. On the upside, she played some of the best tennis of her career en route to the last four. Yet she would hardly want to rewatch the set points she tossed away against 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova, on her way to a nervy semi-final defeat.
Perhaps it was that very experience that helped her this time. Since the moment that Konta walked off Court Suzanne Mathieu 11 days ago, she has rejected any suggestions that she choked, telling reporters in the post-match interview room that “I don’t have any regrets”. Holding her head high, she took four days completely away from tennis – an eternity for a top-class player – and returned on Monday in fine fettle.
When asked on Monday about her eventful French Open, Konta replied “Because it is longer [than the standard week-long WTA events], it can be a bit more draining emotionally. There's going to be a bit of a drop-off after and I was quite tired last week and just catching up on sleep.
“I haven’t really spent any time replaying anything about the last match or really any of the other matches. I thought I did a good job at digesting the good things that I did and learning from the things I want to do more of, or differently next time. More than anything, I came away looking forward to enjoying the tennis that I'm playing.”
Monday’s match was hardly a gentle opener on the grass. Ranked No. 20, Kontaveit is coached by Andy Murray’s father-in-law Nigel Sears, and speaks with such a cut-glass English accent – the legacy of teenage friendships with a gaggle of British juniors – that you would swear she was a native.
Even though Kontaveit grew up in the indoor centres of Estonia, the lush turf of Birmingham should still have been a comfortable environment for a woman whose one WTA title came on Dutch grass courts in 2017. Which made it all the more impressive when Konta hustled her out of Birmingham on Monday in just 72 minutes’ play.
Konta’s only moment of doubt came at the beginning, when a cold right arm probably contributed to a pair of double-faults at the start of her opening service game. It was chilly on the Ann Jones Centre Court – which might have explained a disappointing turn-out of only a thousand fans – although mercifully dry.
Once that shoulder warmed up, though, Konta sent down numerous thumping first serves, enjoying the faster conditions that suit her first-strike game. It almost feels as if she has spent the last couple of months playing with a half-sized racket, because the clay absorbs her power and damps down her penetration. Having overcome those handicaps, and still won 15 matches on her worst surface, she should be well placed to cash in on her best.
We also saw the variations that Konta has been working on since striking up her profitable partnership with French coach Dimitri Zavialoff at the end of last season. Her slice skidded through nice and low, providing a handy defensive option, but it was the drop-shot that really paid off. Kontaveit was usually able to reach the short ball and push it back, but then she invariably found herself stranded. Konta either came up with a delicate lob or moved forward to volley a winner into the open court.
After wrapping up her victory with one more crunching forehand drive – her 19th winner of a sharp and focused performance – Konta gave herself credit for “not having too many dips in my level”. She also explained that she has been following the Women’s World Cup with enjoyment and pride.
“It's always good to see women in sport being celebrated,” she said. “Everyone is a lot more acquainted with the men, how well they do, how well they don't do. So it's nice to see the good things and sometimes the hardships that come with the female athletes. It's just as entertaining, it's just as raw and it is just as easy to get behind. I'm enjoying seeing them [England] play and I watched their game the other day.”
As one of the highest-profile women in British sport, Konta will have her own caravan of support over the next month. On Monday’s evidence, it could take her a long way.