Britain's Johanna Konta returned to form to win in Nottingham
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What a start to the grass-court season it has been for British No.1 Johanna Konta. She dismantled Shuai Zheng on Sunday in the final of the Viking Nottingham Open, thus becoming the first British woman to win a WTA tournament on home soil since Sue Barker in 1981.
This was a welcome and perfectly timed return to form. Before arriving in Nottingham, Konta had won only three of 10 matches in 2021. She is not a player who can peak at will; rather, she needs to build her level step by step. And this has been difficult, given that she hadn’t picked up back-to-back wins since Cincinnati in August last year.
Nottingham, though, has been Konta’s most successful tournament over the years – just as Queen’s has been for Andy Murray. She had reached the final here twice before, losing tight matches to Ashleigh Barty – now the world No1 – in 2018 and Donna Vekic the previous year.
This time, there was no chance for the contest to become complicated. Konta broke in the third game and then piled pressure onto Zhang until she had a 6-2, 6-1 victory in her pocket.
Afterwards, she spoke movingly about the late Elena Baltacha, after whom the Nottingham trophy is named. “I knew her as a young girl, as a teenager and in my early 20s,” said Konta of Baltacha, who was only 30 when she died of liver cancer.
“She was fierce, proud and hard working,” Konta continued. “She had a lot of qualities that I find very inspirational and value a lot in fellow competitors and human beings. She impacted a lot of people in incredibly positive ways.
“When we lose someone like that in any walk of life – but especially in sport – you feel that. I played those two finals earlier and I knew this trophy had her name on it, so it does mean a bit more to me because it is in remembrance of her.”
Konta has withdrawn from this coming week’s event in Birmingham, but she is down to play in her parents’ town of Eastbourne the following week – and that has been another successful hunting ground for her.
“The grass is not too kind,” she said, with regard to the long-standing knee issues that she has to deal with. “It requires a lot of knee flexion and being low so it’s actually quite painful on the body. I am very conscious of how I manage my time out there and the things I do physically to be able to play continuously.”