A baking update from Johanna Konta: the muffin-cooking Wimbledon semi-finalist has graduated to cakes. Chocolate, to start with. Successfully, too. “It was my first one, actually,’’ she smiles. “I think I did it quite well.’’
The products of Konta’s new kitchen in Putney made for one of the lighter storylines of The Championships this year, with regular media updates on the ingredients trialled and shared by her team. It was also a welcome diversion for the 6th seed as the host nation celebrated its best result in the ladies' singles in almost four decades.
Yet if Konta could have been forgiven for feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the scrutiny and attention, especially given Andy Murray’s rare exit one round earlier, the 26-year-old said it was not as stressful as it might have been.
“I think I did better in very much staying around the people that I wanted to be around and only giving time to things that were actually of benefit to me,’’ she says.
This meant minimal TV. No news channels or papers. Little social media. Immersed only in “the bubble” of being at home, enjoying her home Grand Slam and - between muffin batches - thinking only about her tennis.
But pickings have generally been slimmer in the months since. Since Konta’s last match win, in the Cincinnati third round back in August, she has lost first-up at the US Open (to Aleksandra Krunic), the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo (Barbara Strycova) and the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open (Ashleigh Barty).
“I’m coming up against different challenges right now, different circumstances, I’m in a different position,’’ Konta said in Wuhan. “I think if you look at all the players in the top 10, in fact anywhere in the game, they all go through periods of finding themselves and finding their level and finding their game and again it’s my turn to do my time.’’
As she does so, the Race to Singapore and the prestigious WTA Finals is intensifying for would-be qualifiers, and Konta enters this week’s China Open in eighth place. None of those behind her gained ground in Wuhan, but challenges from the likes of Kristina Mladenovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, CoCo Vandeweghe and US Open champion Sloane Stephens are expected in the coming weeks.
To that end, Konta has also entered both Hong Kong and Moscow, with the latter the scene of Kuznetsova’s last-gasp title that last year bumped the British No.1 down to 9th. Already in Singapore by then, she ended up playing no more than the unwanted role of alternate - and hence her reluctance to look too far ahead this time.
“There are so many moving variables, so many things that could happen,’’ she said. “For one thing it depends on how other players do and I have no control over that… So if it’s something that I get at the end of the year then I’ll be ‘Yay!’ And if not, I’ll still have had a good year.”
And a great Wimbledon, from which she can still draw confidence. Having won just the single match in her previous five visits to Wimbledon, Konta’s epic quarter-final against second seed Simona Halep was one of the best, and most watched, matches of the tournament. While Murray could undoubtedly relate, Konta is reluctant to compare.
“There was such a massive build-up to his (2013) title there and his whole journey through that with the British media, with the British public, and how the perception of him changed,’’ Konta says.
“Nothing can compare to that. Not my story, not anyone’s, at home, or at Wimbledon or I guess through tennis. Because there was also that massive expectation that was on him. Honestly, I don’t ‘t think I could ever fathom what that was like.
“But it was my own (story), and it was special to me and special to the people that lived it with me and it was definitely a highlight in my career so far. Actually, to be fair, it would be a highlight on its own because it was the first time I ever did well at Wimbledon.”
And, having treated the goodwill as “a massive compliment”, Konta also earned a few for her muffins. In case you’re wondering, the blueberries won.