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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Preparation and memory the secret to Konta's flying starts at Wimbledon

Ahead of fourth round match on Monday with Caroline Garcia, the Briton's coach Wim Fissette has revealed the approach to why she is so strong at the beginning of matches.

Johanna Konta with coach Wim Fissette during a practice session. Andrew Couldridge / Reuters
Johanna Konta with coach Wim Fissette during a practice session. Andrew Couldridge / Reuters

Johanna Konta's coach Wim Fissette has revealed how he makes the British women's No 1 learn tactics off-by-heart and recite them before her matches at Wimbledon.

No player in the women's draw has won a higher percentage of first sets this year than Konta, who in nine grand slam contests has lost the opening frame just once.

That was against Serena Williams at the Australian Open in January and even in her shock French Open loss to Su-wei Hsieh, Konta blitzed the first set 6-1.

Her fast starts are no fluke. Konta is prepared meticulously for her opponents by Fissette and expected to commit every detail of her game-plan to memory.

It means in the minutes before she walks out on Court One on Monday, to face Caroline Garcia in the last 16, Konta will be reciting her strategy.

"What we do at Wimbledon is I text her the game plan the night before and she reads it. It's quite a long message," Fissette said. "There are tactical messages but also some mental messages of what I feel is important that day.

"Twenty minutes before the match she starts to warm up, which is quite intense, but five minutes before she goes out on court she repeats the messages back to me.

"She recites her intentions for the match and if something is missing I tell her she has forgotten it, especially if it's something important.

"You could say it is like a little exam and maybe a bit unusual but when she is 100 per cent clear about her intentions, that is when Jo plays her best matches.

"There are matches sometimes when I feel she is not completely clear and that is when it gets tough."

The routine sounds intense but Fissette's pep-talks are rarely designed to fire Konta up.

The Belgian has worked with Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka, Sabine Lisicki and Simona Halep in the past, but says Konta likes to keep things light.

"We all tell jokes. Everybody is different," Fissette said.

"When I worked with Azarenka, two hours before her match she is completely in her zone. In that time, we are definitely not talking anymore.

"With Kim she was very relaxed before matches, she would hug a baby nearby or play with a dog going past.

"Johanna is a bit like that. She is usually very relaxed as well and we often joke and laugh. It is good for her mindset."

Fissette's former charges have all enjoyed a noticeable boost under his tutorship on grass and Konta has been no different.

The world No 7 had never gone further than round two before this current tournament but, heading into the second week, she is one of the favourites for the title.

"I would of course say she can win but I have different favourites for the tournament," Fissette said.

"Venus Williams won this tournament a few (five) times. We still have the number one player in the world (Angelique Kerber). We have Azarenka who has won two grand slams.

"I was surprised to see Jo at the top of the list because she never went really far here in the past. It's all new for her so we can only see how she will deal with that.

"But Johanna is Johanna and on a good day she can beat all the top players. She is only going to get better on grass so if not this year maybe the next year.

"I think she can win a grand slam one day, for sure."

Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport are just two former champions to have circled Konta as a potential winner next weekend but it remains to be seen how the 26-year-old would cope with the trophy in sight.

Even through the early rounds, expectations have grown and Fissette has been sweating too.

"At least for Jo, because she is doing it she can let it out. I have to go for a run after every of her matches because I get so nervous," he said with a smile.

"For her it is logical there is some pressure but the most pressure comes from herself because she wants to do well here.

"That's why it's very important the team around her stays calm. For example, we don't spend so much time together off court. We try to leave her alone.

"She has her own flat near so today (Saturday) we did a gym session and then I told her not to come to Wimbledon, just to stay away from all the craziness.

"I saw her for about an hour but said, 'today is about relaxation and then tomorrow, we can go back to work'."

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