Retired Johanna Konta was an outstanding athlete who maxed out her ability

It is the immense good fortune of British tennis that, as one of its few star players leaves the stage, another has arrived.

When Jo Konta pulled out of Wimbleton last summer after contracting Covid, nobody thought that Emma Raducanu was waiting to plug the gap.

This remarkable bit of dovetailing was only confirmed, spectacularly, when the Kent teenager won the US Open after Konta had made a similar last-gasp withdrawal, this time due to thigh and knee problems.

Former British No 1 Johanna Konta retired from tennis at the age of 30 on Wednesday morning

As a player she was an outstanding athlete who could compete with the sport’s very best

In just her second Grand Slam, Raducanu was to succeed where the former British No 1 fell short.

Nonetheless, the scale of Konta’s career should not be underestimated. She became Britain’s best player since Jo Durie in the early 1980s and peaked at a ranking of four, 15 places higher than Raducanu has yet to reach.

Their career trajectories have little in common. At the same age as Raducanu, 19, was wowing New York, Konta was beginning to play the obscure Futures circuit, identified within the British game as promising but unexceptional. 

Around the time of her early development, Laura Robson and Heather Watson, both junior Slam winners, were more talked about. To the great credit of Konta, now 30, she ended up putting both in the shade.

On Wednesday she admitted she had run out of energy to deal with the ‘stress and pain’ that comes with sustaining a career at the highest level. She is getting married this month to long-time partner Jackson Wade. ‘You’re putting yourself in that position where you’re welcoming pain, pressure and stress,’ she said, referring to her career.

‘It’s a pleasure to do that when you feel you have the energy and then be able to play at your best. I would love to still play on the biggest stages, it’s just that I don’t have the energy any more.

‘I am getting married. I would definitely love to have a family. I don’t think I will be looking back on any one match with any kind of feelings other than joy, for the fact that I’ve actually had a wonderful career.’

If there is one moment of regret it will be the set point she had in the 2019 French Open semis

She was 24 when she cracked the top 100 and from then progress was swift. The catalyst was a link-up with Spanish coach Esteban Carril and his compatriot Juan Coto, a sports psychologist. Once known to panic under pressure, she became much calmer.

Konta will not be one of those wondering if she could have done much more with what she was given. But if there is one moment that might keep her up in the early hours — she says not — it will be the set point she had in the opener of the 2019 French Open semi-final. 

On a grey morning in Paris she was in command against Marketa Vondrousova when she missed the kind of drive volley that would normally have been tucked away for fun. Her opponent revived and the unlikely shot at glory on clay evaporated.

By then, it was well established what a fine all-rounder she had become, and her quarter-final demolition of Sloane Stephens that year at Roland Garros was especially memorable.

What is inarguable is that Konta absolutely maxed out the ability she had during her career

Konta is due to get married this month to longtime partner Jackson Wade (right) and has openly said she would like children

So was her 2017 Wimbleton quarter-final against Simona Halep, which excited thoughts of a British winner, before her return of serve was picked apart by Venus Williams in the semis.

Konta arrived in the UK aged 14 from Australia, where she had been on national squads but was regarded as too slight. Of Hungarian heritage, her parents took jobs in London and she settled into a British system often bolstered by players who have partially, at least, learned the game elsewhere.

If she has left a legacy then it is as a role model with an impeccable work ethic, comparable to Andy Murray’s. The depth in the UK game could be greater, but that is no reflection on Konta. She was an excellent example to follow.

In the longer term she has sights on a media career and, given her intelligence and knowledge, she will be a perceptive and articulate analyst. Probably better than as an interview subject herself, as her wary manner and desperation not to yield anything could be difficult to warm to.

She was an outstanding athlete who, when confident and aggressive, competed with the best. The lack of a Plan B sometimes held her back, but in full flow she could be near unstoppable.

In her best years of 2016-19 she made six quarter-finals or better at the Slams. She maxed out her ability and no athlete can ask more of themselves than that.

Originally posted 2021-12-03 14:46:21.