Johanna Konta’s calm mantra allows her to make the best of herself again | Kevin Mitchell

The British No 1 can reach her first grand slam final with victory in Paris on Friday but even if she fails she is enjoying her tennis again and believes that is the reason for her resurgence

As Johanna Konta and her boyfriend, Jackson Wade, relax in their Paris apartment this week, watching “a whole bunch” of romcoms, the British No 1 is disarmingly relaxed. She has not indulged her passion for cake-baking on this trip – keeping her diet simple to conquer a cold – and she has rarely turned to her musical playlists.

Never mind that one of her favourites, Van Morrison, might have written Days Like This for what she is about to experience. It is as if she has stripped her life of her usual distractions to concentrate on the challenge facing her on Friday – beating the best teenager in the game, Marketa Vondrousova, to become the first British woman in the final of the French Open since Sue Barker 43 years ago.

But she is not glum or wound-up about the task. She smiles and laughs constantly. She is, she says, very happy. It shows.

The pressure of performing at the highest level of her sport appeared to strangle her talent for a worryingly long period, but any self-doubt dwindled to invisibility when she cracked the top 10 three years ago, and even in her crash to No 50 last July she refused to buckle under the weight of criticism. She had not long suffered defeat in her fourth consecutive first-round match at these championships, and seemed lost on clay. Konta did not take kindly to the suggestion that clay was her surface from hell, particularly in Paris.

Looking back at her excellent run here this time, she said there was no urge to prove her critics wrong – as Andy Murray often has done.

“Sorry to disappoint you, guys, but not really. My approach is maybe slightly different to his. That’s normal. Everyone gets motivated or inspired by different things. I don’t look for a fight, or look for animosity or tension where it’s not needed. I play tennis for me – and I learned that through the last number of years: to play tennis for me and to enjoy it for me. That’s been the biggest factor in doing well here: I enjoy what I’m doing. I get a lot of satisfaction from the work I’m doing with Dimitri [Zavialoff, her coach]. I’m more pleased on a smaller scale than necessarily [being] against you guys.”

Johanna Konta: ‘I learned through the last number of years to play tennis for me and to enjoy it for me.’
Johanna Konta: ‘I learned through the last number of years to play tennis for me and to enjoy it for me.’ Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

And those setbacks, it transpires, she handled with her underpinning philosophy in life and tennis: acceptance. It is a Kiplingesque attitude to success and failure, shaped by her former Spanish coach Esteban Carril, and his friend, the late Juan Coto, who was Konta’s life coach. Konta rarely talks about Coto, who died in 2016, but was keen to name-check him and Carril when explaining what has become her core mantra.

“Acceptance has been a part of my vocabulary and part of my thought process for many years now, probably since Esteban and Juan. It got reignited, strengthened and more relevant in the last year and a half or so. There are a lot of situations that we find ourselves in in this sport that are quite removed from reality in a lot of ways. It’s very much not real life.

“I [want] to bring a good perspective, then, when you’re out there in a very tense or emotional situation, whether it be from the crowd or yourself – there can be a lot of emotions out there – to practise acceptance that it’s not under your control, or it is just part of the situation you find yourself in.”

As Billie Jean King said of Konta on Wednesday: “Her concentration is better day in and day out. I feel like some days she gets like too hyped up. She seems to be very calm right now.”

Konta does not want to be chilled out to the point of complacency on Friday, after Wednesday’s rain pushed her semi-final back, and there is little chance of that against Vondrousova. The 19-year-old Czech, who arrived at this tournament ranked 38 in the world and will leave well in advance of that, has all the weapons to be a major force in tennis.

She has already delivered on her immense promise with an expansive and intelligent game to beat three seeds here, saving three set points on Tuesday to oust the clay-court specialist Petra Martic, who had won their four previous matches.

Blessed with a bright, teenager’s belief that anything is possible, Vondrousova, nevertheless, is no wide-eyed kid. As she said after beating Martic in two tight sets: “It’s not happening every day, right? I’m just really happy with my game.” As she should be.

Konta is reluctant to be labelled a favourite in her third grand slam semi-final, after losing twice as an underdog, to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open in 2016 and Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2017.

“That’s always an external opinion. We all know that the landscape of our Tour right now is not that black and white, with underdog and the person expected to win. There’s a lot of grey – more grey than black and white. That’s what’s so exciting. That’s fun. I lost to Vondrousova last year, and I beat her two weeks ago [in Rome]. Whoever I play, it’s 50-50. There have been more upsets than not this year to prove that theory right.”


Kevin Mitchell at Roland Garros

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