It’s fair to say that 2020 was a year to forget for Johanna Konta, at least as far as the Grand Slams were concerned. First-round exits in the Australian Open and French Open were only slightly bettered by a second-round defeat in the US Open, meaning that the British No. 1 was left with little to celebrate in a turbulent year for the sport.
Konta’s Grand Slam performances last year were disappointing because they contrasted so markedly with her form from 2019. In that 12-month period, she had rediscovered her form and broken back into the top 20 of the WTA rankings. Although she couldn’t get her hands on that elusive maiden Grand Slam title, a run to the semi-finals of the French Open, along with quarter-final appearances at both Wimbledon and the US Open were signs that perhaps there was still hope for the Australian-born player.
But inconsistency seems to have racked Konta’s game for many seasons now, and for every step forward she makes, another couple of steps back seem to inevitably follow. 2021 brings a fresh start, and the upcoming Australian Open is another chance to improve on her Grand Slam performances last year. The bookies have little faith in Konta, who is priced at a lengthy 40/1 to win the tournament according to the Australian Open odds.
There is a good reason for those long odds, namely that Konta performed so abysmally in the Grand Slams last year, and also the fact that her results in Melbourne over the last three years have not been up to scratch. She does have some degree of pedigree in the event, having reached the semi-finals in 2016 followed by the quarter-finals in 2017, but since that, several early exits have defined Konta’s fortunes Down Under.
The WTA Tour is notoriously competitive, and players can come from seemingly nowhere to upset big names and win tournaments. One only needs to look at the example of Iga ?wi?tek, who surprised the sporting world by winning the French Open last year, despite being ranked 75th in the world before the tournament, to see that Grand Slam victories can come from unlikely sources.
But this should inspire Konta – the fact that if she can summon her top form for a two-week spell then Grand Slam glory could be the consequent result. There is no doubting that she still has the game to do well and go far in Grand Slam tournaments, and at 29 years of age she still has time on her side to become Britain’s first female Grand Slam champion since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977.
Of course, there are plenty of players who deservedly have much shorter odds going into the Australian Open. The likes of Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu are deserving of their status as leading contenders, but that does not discount the prospect of someone coming from left-field to win in Melbourne.
Konta is flying below the radar at the moment, not considered among the favourites to succeed in 2021, and perhaps some are even writing her off as past her best. What perfect timing it would be to fly in the face of those 40/1 odds and produce the form we all know she is capable off in the upcoming Australian Open.