I wrote this in spring 2017. I wonder how much progress Johanna has made since then, i.e improvement to her game.
Laurie's Tennis articles: Johanna Konta: An In Depth Look At Her Game
Johanna Konta: An In Depth Look At Her Game
Johanna Konta wins Miami Open
The clay court season is underway and we are about to embark on another great period of spring and summer tennis. This is a good opportunity to take a look at the one of the hottest properties on the tour right now in Johanna Konta.
Johanna has made a dramatic rise up the rankings in the last two seasons to a career high position of seven and recently won the prestigious Miami Open title, one of the biggest titles outside of grand slam level. Let’s take a look at how Johanna has got to this position, assess her strengths and weaknesses and try to predict how far she can get in her career.
Johanna possesses one of the better serves on the WTA tour. Johanna is a tall player at 1m 80 (5 ft. 11) and thus able to extend up and serve well into the corners. Another asset for Johanna is her ability to consistently produce first serves of over 100mph which keeps her opponents honest more often than not. As regards to her serving stance and motion, it is one of the more bizarre motions we have witnessed on the tour; which starts off by deliberately twirling her handle on the racquet four times, whilst bouncing the ball four times as high as possible followed with a fifth lower bounce! Quirky is the phrase that springs to mind but it definitely works for her which is the most important thing.
Up to this point of the season Johanna has served over 100 aces at an average of just over five aces per match; and due to the pace she generates creates a lot of opportunities for unreturnables from her opponents. Johanna’s favourite serve on the deuce court is the wide serve to the forehand (for a right hander); a risky play but opens up the court considerably if implemented correctly. Johanna also serves very well down the middle which is the lowest part of the net, this allows her to win the majority of her service games which stands at 82% at this stage of the season, which is extremely good; however due to the nature of clay court tennis, expect this average to drop slightly over the next few weeks. On the ad court, Johanna also likes to serve down the middle but in my view she finds this technically more difficult to swing the ball with slice but it is developing nicely now. As for the 2nd serve, Johanna has a reliable delivery which she uses on the ad court as a kicker more often than not but also can serve into the body as well. So far, Johanna has won 51% of her 2nd serve points which again is quite good; you always need to win at least 50% of 2nd serve deliveries to be really competitive in tennis. The key is depth, serving deep into the box so it doesn’t sit up waiting to be put away. In summary, Johanna is adept at serving into all four corners of the box and into the body which makes up the six targets of serving to an opponent.
Return of Serve
Johanna likes to play an aggressive game when it comes to return of serve. So far this mentality has certainly contributed to her success on hardcourts culminating with her biggest title to date in Miami at the beginning of April. Johanna likes to keep the points fairly short by taking the ball as early as possible and hitting deep returns on both forehand and backhand side, putting her opponent on the defensive. Hitting deep returns is an excellent tactic in my view as you always leave yourself some margin for error. If a player goes for winners too often they are prone to making many more errors which leads to frustration. To validate this, Johanna has won 44% of her return games so far and converted 46% of break point opportunities, two very good statistics.
This is classic hard court tactics which works if implemented well. Now that we are in the spring / early summer period, it will be interesting to see how Johanna adapts her tactics to clay and grass which both require different methods, or at least an adaptation of a mainstay plan. On clay, Johanna will have to decide whether she will keep her attacking stance or drop off. Theoretically she should be able to do well as WTA players in general do not hit the kick serve as much, so the ball would not get above her shoulder too often to cause her problems. However, that could be a problem as the rally develops with the cannier players using topspin as a weapon to get the ball to move more off the court. Therefore, Johanna’s return of serve will have to better than on hardcourt to be successful as her movement sideways and coming forward will be more severely tested.
In 2016 Johanna had a mixed grass court period, she reached the semifinal of Eastbourne and played a very close three setter against Dominika Cibulkova but at Wimbledon lost in the 2nd round to Eugenie Bouchard. However, taking the ball early on return of serve on grass should be a useful tactic.
This is one of the vital improvements Johanna has made in her game, to have a more reliable forehand; this has helped her to shoot up the rankings over the last twenty four months.
Johanna uses a semi western grip on the forehand and for a long period this has been a shaky shot, but in recent times Johanna has worked hard to make it more stable so it doesn’t break down under pressure, either from her opponents who attack it consistently or from nerves in a tight situation score wise. One way to deal with that is to hit through the nerves, which may explain Johann’s willingness to go for her shots as often as possible. I would like to see Johanna hit the forehand down the line more often to open up the court and attack the net; I would also like to see her hit the inside out forehand more and make more use of angles, although that might require her to slightly adjust her court position. With Johanna’s athleticism that shouldn’t be a problem if she wants to make her forehand a bigger weapon.
Like most modern players this is Johanna’s more reliable shot and sets up a lot of her points and ultimately wins on the WTA tour. As mentioned earlier, Johanna is very good at using the backhand to hit penetrating returns which allow her to open up the court. In the rallies Johanna is good at using the backhand as a shot which can be used to attack the defences of her opponent and to take advantage of short balls to attack the net. Johanna is also adept at taking one hand off to use the slice to stay in the rally when stretched. I do get the feeling Johanna is a little too impatient at times and wants to go for the killer shot too quickly, a certain lack of compromise. However, there are times when compromising is necessary, especially if you want to be a top five or number one player; simply because your opponents are capable of doing to you what you are trying to do to them. One way to guard against that is by being a bit more strategic, probing a few more shots then look for the shorter ball to attack.
Volleys & Overheads
Johanna plays an aggressive game and likes to come forward to finish points when the opportunity presents itself. I would say Johanna’s volleys are adequate and technically slightly not quite up to scratch. Like most modern players it could be the racquet which is an issue or Johanna did not learn to apply slice to volleys to keep them low. I mention the racquet because like Garbine Muguruza, Johanna uses a large Babolat frame. Garbine for instance, wants to come forward as often as possible and frankly has terrible technique on the volley. It could be that the large Babolat frame does not lend itself to good volleying technique yet so many top players use that frame. Having said that, Karolina Pliskova also uses a Babolat Pure Drive and has good volleying skills.
In many ways, the volley is the like the serve, the more you work at it and practice it, the better technically skilled you become with it which can make the difference in a tight match. No better example than Serena Williams’ serve, the best serve in the game which has helped her to win countless matches when she was getting outplayed from the baseline. I get the feeling many players including Johanna have not worked on their volleying skills enough in their formative years which becomes an issue as pro players at the top level.
I would like to see Johanna put slice on her volleys more often to keep the ball low, especially on hard courts, and rely less on the swing volley. However, that is unlikely as most modern players rely on the swing volley even though it often doesn’t work.
At 1m 80, Johanna has the attributes and athleticism to have a good overhead; the key will be tracking back and getting her feet into position, everything else takes care of itself.
This is one of the key areas which will determine how far a player can progress in their career. The better the movement, the more likely they are to be successful. Success is relative to the player and can mean different things to different people. In Johanna’s case, she has stated she wants to get to number 1 in the world at some point in her career, preferably sooner than later. With that in mind she is on the right track as her movement has improved significantly over the last 18 months. This is manifested in her hardcourt results which I would say is probably her favourite surface as she has faith in the bounce; very similar to Kim Clijsters and Andre Agassi who won the majority of their tournaments on hardcourts.
Johanna’s footwork is extremely busy at all times which suggest to me she is a very hard worker. However, there are still some areas where she can improve her movement. Even though Johanna’s footwork is busy, I feel she can use her athleticism more to move around the ball to create more on the forehand side, especially down the line and inside out; this would take her game to a higher level. The ball can be a bit too close and a lot rallies take place down the middle of the court. This is a trait of many modern WTA players who want to stand their ground close to the baseline; the ball is coming fast and they don’t have time to move out of the way, so “muscle” the ball often. It works up to the point but the best players have the best movement and create angles more often, they do that by playing the court a bit more diagonally, allowing them to hit the forehand down the line or cross court (inside out). To use that play you have to be able to attack the net or be able to cover your forehand if your opponent hits down the line to your forehand
I noticed this last year during Wimbledon when Johanna lost to Eugenie Bouchard in the 2nd round. Johanna often seemed rushed and not set to hit her shots freely, the ball was coming onto her too quickly. That wasn’t because Eugenie was hitting the ball at the speed of light but Johanna wasn’t moving well enough to make room for her shots.
I think to be successful on grass Johanna will have to move better so she has more time to set up her shots and not feel rushed. On clay, so far Johanna’s slightly over aggressive game is not a good fit. Johanna will have to be more patient, play with a bit more strategy and create more openings to attack short balls or use the drop shot. At this stage of her career, Johanna’s game is very hard court centric.
Johanna Konta has the mentality to be the best player in the world, I have no doubt about that. Up to this point, Johanna has done very well to become a top ten player with the opportunity to go further up the rankings over the next twelve months. To achieve that aim, Johanna needs to acquire more all-round skills but she is a good learner so that shouldn’t be a problem. The next three majors for 2017 will give us an indication of Johanna’s progress to become the best in the business.