Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Croft Is Backing Konta to Win First Grand Slam after Sydney Success

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Croft Is Backing Konta to Win First Grand Slam after Sydney Success

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Majendie

JOHANNA KONTA today sealed the second WTA Tour win of her career and former British No1 Annabel Croft believes she has the game to be a Grand Slam winner in Melbourne when the Australian Open gets under way.

Konta brushed aside world No3 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-2 for a confidence-boosting victory at the Sydney International -- where she did not drop a set all week -- on the eve of Melbourne.

But Croft recalls a time when the British No1, who is due to take on Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens in the opening round, was a nervous wreck on court.

"I'm just amazed by the transformation in her," said Croft. "After watching her play at the US Open qualifiers, I remember thinking how nervous she was and that she appeared to have limitations to get to the top.

"That's gone and she's completely turned it around not just mentally but physically. And you see it on the Tour, she's really gained the respect of her peers. It's a case now that when you're drawn against her you think, 'Oh my God, I'm in for a rough ride here'."

Konta enjoyed the season of her career in 2016, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open, winning her first WTA Tour event at the Stanford Classic in July and ending the year in the top 10, the first British woman to achieve that feat since Jo Durie in 1984.

But Croft is adamant that 2016 won't be a flash in the pan and that Konta's climb up the world rankings will carry on. "You don't really want to put a number on how high she can go but you'd have to say top five and there's only a couple in the top 10 that she hasn't beaten," adds Croft.

"For me, she's very much a contender to be winning the Grand Slams starting in Melbourne."

Konta is ranked as highly as sixth favourite by bookmakers for the Australian Open, where she runs the risk of tumbling down the rankings if unable to defend her points from her surprise run to the last four a year ago. The 25-year-old Sydney-born player has enjoyed a strong start to 2017, reaching the semi-finals in Shenzhen before her run in Sydney.

But having made wholesale changes over the winter, Croft believes she can yet improve further.

Her psychologist Juan Coto -- credited with much of her success on court -- sadly passed away at the end of the season and she also parted company with coach Esteban Carril, instead working in pre-season with Wim Fissette, the ex-coach of former Australian Open winner Kim Clijsters.

"She really has picked up where she left off," said Croft of Konta in the early part of the season.

"She went through difficult times early in her career and she was in the wilderness for quite a long time.

"There were fears that she might dip after her psychologist sadly passed away. You wondered where she'd be after that but she's almost saying to us on court she's doing it for him now. …

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