There’s not a lot of variety about Johanna Konta’s game, but I don’t think anyone should be too worried about that. Holy mackerel, if she can serve and hit her ground strokes like she did at times against Donna Vekic then she hardly needs any more weapons.
On the face of it a marathon 7-6, 4-6, 10-8 victory over the world No 58 might not suggest that Konta has it in her to go deep into this tournament, but I was impressed. She might be a little one-dimensional in that her strategy seems to amount to just going out there and whacking the ball as if she has a personal grudge against it, but it’s a strategy that clearly works for her.
Vekic deserves to be ranked much higher than she is and Konta can take great encouragement from the way she handled the occasion. People tell me that Konta has done a lot of work on the mental side of her game in the last couple of years and it’s clearly paying off. There was pressure on her to reach the third round at Wimbledon for the first time in her career and she coped with it beautifully.
Konta has improved her serve and I liked the way she served when she got into trouble. There were a couple of times late in the match when she was 0-30 down on her serve, but she held her nerve and averted any crisis.
It’s in those situations that the very best players show their worth. When you’re a break and 30-0 up it’s much easier to hit a bold second serve than it is when you’re potentially just a few points away from defeat.
Konta’s ground strokes looked very solid. She takes the ball early and always seems to be well balanced when she strikes the ball. I also like her movement. She covers the court well.
This win should do a lot for her confidence, but I’m sure her mental coach will be stressing to her the importance of taking one match at a time and not looking too far ahead.
Thursday’s match of the day
If you get a chance, I’d advise everyone to catch some of Alexander Zverev’s second-round meeting with Frances Tiafoe. The 20-year-old German and the 19-year-old American are two of the best of the next generation. These guys are the future.
I’ve been very impressed with Zverev. He’s still only 20 but he’s already No 12 in the world. He’s 6ft 6in tall and has a big, big serve and a huge forehand. For a big man he covers the court well. When you play him you need to avoid getting stuck in cross-court exchanges. You need to move him around the court, because if he gets into a rhythm on that forehand he’ll eventually kill you with it.
Tiafoe is a big strong guy. He’s very physical. His serve isn’t a thing of beauty, but it’s huge, as his forehand. Although there’s not a lot of finesse in his game, his sliced backhand is decent and I think that in time he’ll develop some good volleys because he plays such an aggressive game. However, for the moment it’s his strength and power that make him a threat. He only knows one way to play: to hit the ball extremely hard.
I give Zverev the edge in this one. He will certainly be favoured the longer the points go on.
Tales from the IMG Academy
Martina Hingis first came to the IMG Academy with her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, when she was 20, by which time she had already won five Grand Slam titles. He mother was worried because Martina seemed to have lost her fire and passion.
I watched Martina practise and there was certainly nothing wrong with the way she was moving and hitting the ball, but when I had a quiet word with her she told me: “Nick, I’m tired of hearing my mother tell me to do this, do that and compete harder.”
I told Martina that she would not be where she was without her mother, but I also told her to “get out there and be the Martina that you used to be”.
They left after a week to go and play in the WTA Championships in New York. I joined them there and gave Martina some advice during the tournament. She went on to win both the singles and doubles. In her awards speech she thanked both me and her mother, saying that I had helped her “to recognise who has always been at my side”.
A tip from the top
One of the most basic facts of tennis is that you can’t hit a ball if you can’t reach it. Move those feet, man! It’s especially important on grass because the ball moves through the court so quickly.
A lot of club players make the mistake of moving too late for the ball. If you start moving after the ball has gone over the net, the likelihood is that you’re not going to be in position to hit it properly, if at all. Try to anticipate where the ball is coming and start moving before it comes over the net.
The perfect tennis player
Each day I’m building a picture of the ideal tennis player by looking at a different aspect of the game. Today: the volley. There have been many great volleyers in history, with Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Pat Cash among those who come immediately to mind. However, I’m not sure any of them had a better volley than Pat Rafter. Of modern-day players, Venus Williams and Roger Federer both have superb volleys.
However, I think the player with the finest volleys of all time has to be Martina Navratilova. One of the keys to her volleys was her balance, which enabled her to set herself up perfectly to play her shots. No wonder she loved to play serve-and-volley.