Johanna Konta heads to Wimbledon as the best hope Britain has had of a women’s champion in years but while a triumph would be treated as a national success, she is in many ways the epitome of the modern cosmopolitan tennis player.
The WTA rankings are filled with players whose backgrounds do not fit easily into the national identities that Fed Cup team competition demands.
Caroline Wozniacki is a Dane of Polish extraction, Kristina Mladenovic is French but with Serbian parents and Andrea Petkovic a German born in Bosnia.
The list of players with multiple identities, either as a result of parental emigration or switching countries for sporting reasons, is long and Konta is a prime example of the tennis player whose feet are certainly not planted on just one baseline.
Konta was born in Sydney, Australia, the daughter of two Hungarians who had emigrated separately from the central European country. She comes from a sporting family – her grandfather on her mother’s side, Tamas Kertesz, was a footballer with Budapest club Ferencvaros and played twice in the great Hungarian team of the 1950’s that featured Ferenc Puskas.
Kertesz later went on to coach in Ghana, Libya and Iran, allowing Konta’s mother Gabriella to travel outside the then communist country. Konta began to play tennis as an eight-year-old near to the family’s home of Collaroy, on Sydney’s northern beaches, but the wandering life of the tennis player started in her schooldays, with frequent flights to Melbourne, to the national tennis training centre.
At the age of 14, she was sent to the Sanchez Casal tennis academy in Barcelona and while she was there, her parents decided to move to England, setting up home in Eastbourne.
In 2012, Konta became a British citizen and formally switched her playing allegiance to the country. She now speaks with a standard southern English accent with no trace of her Australian childhood.
She does, however, speak fluent Hungarian, impressively so for someone who has never lived in the country. “My parents, especially my father, strictly insisted that we speak Hungarian at home,” she explained in one Hungarian television interview.
When she isn’t travelling the world, she finds time to indulge her Hungarian side, even when in her adopted hometown of Eastbourne. Konta is a regular customer at the Eucalyptus and Paprika Tea House, where she enjoys the ‘chimney cake’, a sweet Hungarian pastry.
“I am very, very proud of her. When we opened the cafe five years ago I thinks she was ranked 200th in the world when she first came in our cafe and now she is seventh,” owner Ferenc Adam, who also serves Konta’s parents regularly, told Reuters.
“Now we have people, fans of Johanna coming into the shop and asking for the chimney cake, even though they don’t know what it is!” While, at Wimbledon, she will undoubtedly enjoy the support of Britain’s sizeable Hungarian community but it is her adopted nationality that will be the focus of attention with the country hoping for their first women’s singles title since Virginia Wade won in 1977.
Konta’s victory at the Miami Open in March was her biggest win in her career to date and has led to talk of her being a real challenger at the All England Club.
The intense media coverage and heightening, perhaps unrealistic, expectations will be a new experience for the 26-year-old but she says she will keep to her approach, honed through years of work with sports psychologists.
“The things that we focus on with my team are very much to stay in my own process and bubble, my approach to my game and my approach to my career doesn’t change according to what is happening outside of me,” she said when asked recently by Reuters about Wimbledon.
“In terms of that we are just staying very much in the process and also just keeping things in perspective – I am out here just trying to be the best player that I can be.”
If she turns that attitude and her talent into a triumph at Wimbledon, British tennis fans will rejoice.
And sales of Hungarian chimney cake in Eastbourne could go through the roof.