VOTE NOW: Voting is open for the rest of this month for SJA members to back their Sportsman, Team and Sportswoman of 2016. JANINE SELF, the SJA’s vice-chair, says that tennis’s rising star Johanna Konta deserves your support
Yes, it’s an Olympic year when heads are predictably turned towards our golden women of Rio, but take stock for a moment. Just look at the 2016 achievements of our tennis No1 Johanna Konta and her breakthrough into the world’s Top 10.
To put it into perspective, the last British woman ranked as high as that was Jo Durie. In 1984. Only three other British women have climbed into the Top 10 in the near-half-century of tennis’s open era – Durie, Sue Barker and Virginia Wade. This is not something which happens very often, people.
No wonder the WTA voted Konta the most improved player of 2016, just like they did in 2015. Little short of 18 months ago she was 147th in the world, only able to dream of qualifying for Grand Slam main draws.
Look at her now.
In January she became the first British woman in 33 years to reach the semi-final of a Slam when she made the last four of the Australian Open (Durie, US Open, 1983, just in case anyone is wondering).
In January she became the first British woman in 33 years to reach the semi-final of a Slam
Back to Ms Konta, who found her main draw debut halted by eventual winner Angelique Kerber, but whose performances suggested she was about to become a serious contender among the tennis elite.
The progress has been startling.
Pre-Wimbledon she beat two-times champion Petra Kvitova at Eastbourne.
Then there was her first WTA tour title, a hard-court victory over Venus Williams in the final of the Stanford Classic.
In October she beat highly rated American Madison Keys on the way to reaching the final of the China Open in Beijing. That catapaulted her to a high of No9. Durie described it as a “mind-boggling” achievement.
British tennis is in a good place right now – Andy Murray’s golden glow is shining on the rest.
But most casual fans judge a player by what he or she does at Wimbledon, which is perhaps why Konta is not getting the national recognition she deserves. Her All-England Club challenge lasted only two rounds, disappointing after being seeded No16.
The way she has responded to that has been impressive in the extreme.
Jo Konta surely deserves to be the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year.
- The SJA’s British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, take place at The Pavilion by the Tower of London on Thursday Dec 15