For generations Britain’s tennis fans waited for a champion to call their own – someone they could follow, cheer and cherish. And although they soon got one in the sturdy figure of Andy Murray, the focus was on another this weekend.
So it was that as the China Open reached its grand finale on Sunday, all British eyes were not on Murray, the world No.2 and the Wimbledon and Olympic champion, but on Johanna Konta, newly appointed to the world’s top 10 and chasing a place in the WTA Finals in Singapore later this month.
As it turned out, Konta’s great run in the Chinese capital was ended by Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-2 while Murray did for Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6 but it was still Konta who was grabbing the headlines By beating Madison Keys in the Beijing semi-finals, she clinched her place in the world’s true elite and became the first British woman to break into the top 10 since Jo Durie in 1984.
But Konta does not set much store by rankings. She has learned the hard way that relying on results to bring happiness is ultimately doomed to failure. For her, happiness lies in doing her job as best she can and competing from first ball until last. It sounds easier said than done but she has made a pretty good fist of it these past 17 months and it probably explains why she did not look too downhearted after her loss to Radwanska.
Konta tried to attack the world No.3 but Radwanska was having none of it.
The player she describes as “the human wall” made precious few mistakes while Konta fluffed a couple of key points and found herself playing catch-up in both sets. This was Radwanska's 20th career title, and was richly deserved. No matter for Konta - she is in eighth place in the race to Singapore – there are eight places available in the draw – and she still has the Hong Kong Open to come.
There are still plenty of points to be won in the chase for that ticket to Singapore. Not that Konta will allow herself to look at it like that: she thought being in the top 10 was “pretty cool” but she has a job to do and she only knows one way of doing it. “I'm heading to Hong Kong tomorrow morning for my next event and looking to do the best that I can there,” she said, staying rooted in the here and now. “The way that Singapore works, not all of it is under my control. It also depends on how the other players do. From what I'm understanding and hearing, quite a lot of us are very close together. Right now taking all that I can from this event and then preparing for my next one, giving my best there, keep continuing like that.”
Murray has been giving his best and continuing from there for most of the year. This season has been the most successful of his career and his squashing of Dimitrov brought him his fifth trophy of the year and the 40th of his career. It also took him another step closer to Novak Djokovic’s position at the top of the rankings.
This time last year, Murray did not play in Beijing. In his absence, Djokovic took the silverware and the 500 ranking points. This time around, Djokovic could not defend his title due to an elbow injury while Murray banked the 500 points. At the start of the week, the gap between No.1 and No.2 was 4,695 points; at close of play in Beijing, that gap had closed to 3,695. Better still for Murray is that he only has 1,160 points to defend between now and the end of the year; Djokovic has 3,300 points to protect. Murray, then, is breathing down his neck for top spot.
“Trying to reach No.1 is a goal obviously,” he said. “I think most of the players that are near the top of the game would like that. I've never been there. It's something I would like to do for the first time, which is maybe more of a motivation for me than some of the guys that have been there before.
“But, yeah, I want to just try and finish this year strong from a personal point of view. It's been my best season to date, and I want to try to finish it as best as I can.”
With the Masters 1000 events in Shanghai and Bercy and the ATP World Tour Finals in London to come, the stage is set for him to do just that.
Elsewhere on the Tours...
- Nick Kyrgios claimed the biggest title of his career in Tokyo, beating David Goffin 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the final of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships. After the heartbreak he suffered in Flushing Meadows, this was a fine way for the Australian to bounce back.