One of the more exciting recent developments in the usually moribund world of United Kingdom ladies’ tennis is the stunning emergence of Johanna Konta, a dynamic and technically impressive player whose profile has risen dramatically in the past few months. Konta – who turns twenty-five years old this May – recently became the first British female to reach a Grand Slam singles semi-final (2016 Australian Open) in over three decades; additionally, her ascension into the WTA’s top twenty-five ranked players has no UK twenty-first century precedent. Moreover, Konta is surprisingly approachable and gives some of the best interviews of any sports star currently in circulation: philosophical, insightful, detached from the madness.
However, notwithstanding these brilliant achievements and valuable attributes, much of the media coverage of the Konta phenomenon has focused on her origins, both geographical and ethnic. Born in Sydney to Hungarian parents, Konta’s family moved to the United Kingdom when she was a teenager; Konta decided to represent Great Britain as soon as she was granted citizenship.
Given that in a deeply-globalised world, talent is mobile and can increasingly choose to represent whichever country it wants, one would think that a player of Konta’s talent would be embraced with open arms by a nation that increasingly struggles to play the very sports it codified in the first place. Instead, her Lawn Tennis Association (‘LTA’) funding was dramatically slashed in 2015, meaning that she now trains in Gijón, northern Spain; media coverage of her record-breaking year has been tainted by ludicrous, loaded questions about precisely how British Konta ‘really’ is.
We at Mediolana – lest we forget, a London-based company – aver without hesitation that the United Kingdom is fortunate indeed to have attracted a player of Konta’s calibre. But to avoid this being anything other than a happy and unrepeatable accident, the tennis authorities, the media and the general public need to realise that soft power is precious and gifted people have options galore: as things stand, the next JoKo could end up playing for a hundred other nations before our own.