By Ros Satar, in Stuttgart
- Anna-Lena Friedsam [WC] def. Johanna Konta 6-3 6-3
- Competitive spirit comes to the fore when the Brit took the Porsche Car Park Challenge
STUTTGART, GERMANY – Johanna Konta had a tough start to her clay court season, as German wild-card Anna-Lena Friedsam gave the home crowd a lot to cheer with a straight sets win over the Brit.
On the slick indoor clay that starts the start of the European build up to the French Open, Friedsam adjusted the better to the surface, as she pegged Konta back in the first set after surrendering a break, and then would break at the end of the set to take the lead.
She had the Brit firmly on the back foot even at the start of the second set, forcing Konta to save three break points before snapping her resolve with two breaks at the end of the set.
“I think it was always to be expected first match on clay not easy for anyone, so I think she did a better job than I did today in dealing with the conditions,” she told the press after the match.
‘I’m happy I’m involved in doubles here so looking forward to that and all the matches I can get, going into Roland Garros and the clay, is an added bonus.”
The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is one of the most popular tournaments on the clay court swing, not least because players (and journalists!) get to sit behind the wheel of the famous luxury cars. In Konta’s case, she enthusiastically signed up for the Porsche parking challenge – but how did it go?
“Oh my god I did horribly,” she groaned, laughing. “I made a big mistake – And this is kind of the perfectionist and the competitor in me. I did the first attempt at the park, and I wasn’t happy so I tried again and I should have just got out of the car. But I’m like ‘no no no’ I’m going to try again, and then the second time I didn’t do it either.”
I have some sympathy with her. In our test drive this morning, out to Solitude Park, where the Grand Prix was formerly held many years ago, a wrong turn saw an encounter between Porsche versus Bus… and the parking assist was more of a hindrance than a help – and Konta agreed!
She said: I mean if that was in my car it would be fine. But I’d driven this car the day before because I was really pumped for it, and took dad out. We didn’t get to the Autobahn so I was a little disappointed.
“The parking sensors threw me off a bit because it was beeping and red, and I was ‘oh my god I’m about to hit this’. I wasn’t so much about hitting the cones but there was a pillar as well. ‘Ok I’m gonna hit this’, so I got out and there was loads of room, and I was like ‘what are you doing, stop lying to me’. So anyway, as you can see I haven’t quite gotten over it yet. I think it’s going to be take me longer to get over that than my match.
“I was disappointed in myself but I’m working on it (laughing),. Interestingly all the things that I work on to try and apply to my tennis, about staying present, staying calm, enjoying the battle, it does not transfer in any other competitive situation.”
Much of course has been made of Konta’s new calm demeanour on court, and she admitted that the use of a sports psychologist has had much to do with her steady progression through the rankings to just outside the Top 20 today. However, it really was not always the case!
“All my practice goes into the sport but forget out of it – if I play like cards or something [else] I mean I am the stroppiest loser you will ever see.”
So was she likely to be the one to throw board games in the air if things did not go her way?
“Yeah probably, if I got the chance I probably would have chucked the board. I remember that. I mean we stopped paying monopoly in my house when I made my sister cry. I was 11 she was 14 and I bought the property she specifically asked me not to buy, deliberately and she cried.”
Back to the clay, and of course thoughts turn to Paris when the clay court season culminates in the second Slam of the year. Konta will always firmly maintain she has no favourite surface, but surely this year she must fancy her chances on the dirt.
She said: “I think it’s also expectations you grow used to on hard courts generally. Having shorter points, getting certain responses from certain shots you hit, which may differ on a clay court – obviously slows down a bit. More balls are going to come back than maybe you would on a hard court. I think it’s just the adaptation process and also you get sore in different areas. My body’s adjusting to the different surface then the different movement that comes with that.
“I think it very much comes together. Once you can find your bearings and less like Bambi on ice, the sooner you are able to also play the kind of tennis you need to on this surface, the better you are able to stay in the points, the better you are able to set up and return the more set up you are for your shots. So I think it all comes very much hand in hand.”
From interviewing her here at my first Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in 2014, when she came in as a lucky loser, to seeing her progression on the grass last year, to her achievements in Australia – this feels like a mere blip. A starting point to continue her confident rise up the rankings, while all the while keeping herself firmly grounded.
Much like the Porsche test drive today, we will be sitting back and just enjoying the ride.
Konta continues in the doubles where she will partner Laura Siegemund.
(Featured Image Credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography)
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