As of all of us Brits know, there’s a thin line between love and hate when it comes to public figures, and sportspeople in particular. Just ask Andy Murray, three times voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year by the public but still relentlessly mocked for supposedly lacking personality and for the part of the UK he’s from.
Winning over this fickle audience won’t be the easiest of tasks for Johanna Konta, the new champion of the Miami Open and now a fixture at the top of the women’s game. Australian-born to Hungarian parents, it’s unlikely that she’ll ever shake off the “plastic Brit” tag that has been thrown at Greg Rusedski and athletes Tiffany Porter and Zharnel Hughes among others. Her accent, a mix of Received Pronunciation and distant Australian, certainly will do little to silence the naysayers when she is inevitably given more coverage during this year’s grass court swing.
Konta doesn’t possess the kind of gregarious, charismatic personality that could easily charm a sceptical crowd. In fact, this is where the clearest comparison with Murray can be made. They’re both naturally uncomfortable in the limelight, and would much prefer to be left alone and get on with their business. Watching Konta in interviews and press conferences, you see a woman learning how to handle herself in the media glare while trying to inject some of her personality into these often mundane tasks. In fact, comparing how she handles such situations now compared to when she was first tasting success on the WTA Tour 12 to 18 months ago, you can see the huge strides she’s made.
Despite this increased willingness to let her real self shine through, Konta is unlikely to ever be too controversial a figure. She’s gotten to where she is now by being one of the most steady and reliable players of the game – and this is where she has the best chance of winning over the British public. She’s mature on court, with a distinct lack of sudden outbursts coupled with lofty respect for her opponents. Combine this with her enormous talent, and she’s in the category of sporting heroes that tend to go down well in the UK – a quietly reserved role model performing at the peak of their abilities and beating the world while they’re at it. I think Johanna Konta is going to do just fine.