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The Rise of Johanna Konta –dedication to mental training pays dividends

Johanna Konta’s story is one of humble inspiration. Last week she became the first British woman to reach a Wimbledon semi-final since the iconic Virginia Wade in 1978. In the last two years Konta has surged through the rankings from 146th to world Number 4, becoming only the fourth British woman in history to make the top 5 alongside the legendary trio of Virgina Wade, Sue Barker and Jo Durie.  Konta has gone from strength to strength in the last two years and has credited much of this rapid rise in rankings to her work on the mental side of her game.

MYND coach Roberto Forzoni had the pleasure of working with Konta. Forzoni acknowledged that Konta is a glowing example of a player with process orientation; she focuses on her game play and what she needs to do rather than the scoreboard or getting pent up with expectations from herself or others. Her work has allowed her to remain focused and in the moment and not let external factors such as the result or pressure from the media distract her game. Mental toughness is imperative to make the leap from ‘just another talented satellite player’ to dominant world force. Previously prone to letting her nerves and emotions take over on the court, Konta has shown a dedicated approach to upping her mental game and her mental control is now undoubtedly one of her strengths. This was echoed amongst legends such as John McEnroe from the commentary box at Wimbleon who acknowledged how she has worked hard to maintain a strong and positive mind-set throughout the ups and downs of the tennis life.

On recommendation from her former coach Esteban Carril in 2014, Konta began working with mental coach Juan Coto who tragically passed away in late 2016. Konta praised Coto’s holistic approach and core belief that ‘it’s more than just tennis’, working to develop her happiness as a human being and ability to deal with life in general. Konta testifies this work made a huge impact on her mental strength both on and off the court. Konta recently stated that Coto gifted her with an incredible number of tools and habits and he would be proud that she continues to improve her personal and emotional development every single day. This enhanced mental fortitude shone through when Konta won the Miami Open in April just four months after the sudden death of her mentor.

In an interview in 2012 Konta expressed her excitement at having met Venus Williams on the practice courts at Wimbledon. Facing such a superstar in the semi-final at the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament was undoubtedly great practice for Konta for dealing with pressure. Konta started Wimbledon having won only one match in her five previous appearances in the tournament. Playing Venus on a centre court under the watching eyes of a home crowd would have been a completely new level of pressure for the 26-year old and a fantastic learning experience in how to handle pressure situations. Konta remained calm during a number of high pressure moments at Wimbledon and looked very comfortable on centre court. Mentally the tournament will have helped her with dealing for future pressure situations; giving her confidence that she is able to play well under extreme pressure. The tournament showed Konta’s flourishing skill of controlling pressure that has marked her rapid progress and she seems to be confident both in her game and in herself. Konta is a fantastic testimonial that committing to mental training pays dividends.

Konta left the tournament with a huge smile and positive hopes for the future. Progress hinges on the capacity to learn from defeat and Konta’s current mind coach Elena Sosa says there is no-one else around as adept at turning failure into success. Sosa recently told the Telegraph “I think Johanna is the best I have seen at processing defeat, she knows exactly what is needed to move on quickly, what you need to take from failure to become better.” It looks like great things are ahead for the grounded and likeable Johanna Konta who now has the task of building on some excellent performances at Wimbledon. It is unlikely however that she is thinking that far ahead, she will be focused on the present moment!

Konta’s mental toolbox:

  • Explore unhelpful beliefs such as – ‘I need to win, I don’t want to make mistakes, what happens if I lose?’ – and replace those with more positive thoughts
  • Relaxation techniques to remain calm and in the moment on the court – Breathing exercises, visualising positive small steps like a spot where you want to serve rather than outcomes such as winning a match
  • Trigger words you can say to yourself in your head that keep you thinking positively – ‘keep fighting’, ‘you can do it’, ‘that point doesn’t matter’
  • The philosophy to ‘control the controllables’ focus on things that you can control. Not winning or losing or your ranking but your effort and your attitude. You release the pressure of what you can’t control.