When it’s right to shout ‘YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS’16th July, 2019 by Simon Mowbray
When British number one tennis player Johanna Konta – ranked the 15th best player in the world following this year’s Wimbledon tournament – suffered an agonising defeat in her Wimbledon Quarter-Final against the now world number 32 Barbora Strycova last week, few batted an eyelid about the reasons behind her loss.
She hadn’t particularly ‘bottled it’, as the saying goes to explain why elite sport stars don’t always achieve the greatness that their talent suggests should be theirs for the taking. She hadn’t timidly played pit-a-pat returns in the vain hope that her opponent would blast their own shots into the net. And she hadn’t lost her cool with a self-defeating fit of pique that had led to yet another career-defining implosion so typical of many fine talents that never fulfil their potential (see Nick Kyrgios if you want a good current example).
Instead, Miss Konta had at worst succumbed to the severe pressure of the occasion to start missing her range – with her trademark power-drive ground strokes beginning to land just beyond the baseline.
As a mediocrely talented club player myself, I can only begin to understand the pressure she was under. But, as an ex-journalist and seasoned media coach, I can understand why Konta lost her cool with one of the press corps in the post-match round of interviews.
Asked whether she “needs to have a look at herself” following her defeat to Strycova, a genuinely shocked Konta, who had conducted herself with her usual dignity up to that point, responded: “I don’t think you need to pick on me in a harsh way… Please don’t patronise me. You are [patronising me] in the way you asked your question. You’re being quite disrespectful and patronising me. I’m a professional competitor who did her best today and that’s all there is to that.”
She added: “I went out there and did my best and it wasn’t good enough. Every decision I made, every thought process, every opportunity I gave myself, I have no regrets. I did the best I could.
“Obviously, I’d have liked to play two more matches, but I can take a lot away from this. I really feel that, even including today, I can take a lot away from these 10 days, the players I’ve beaten and also lost to today. Overall there’s a lot I can be proud of.”
There is no record of who the anonymous reporter is, and neither is there likely to be.
By contrast, Konta’s reputation as a tough cookie and top media performer is strengthened, as well as setting down a new marker for her fellow professionals on how to deal with lazily worded insults from reporters who really have no idea what it takes to play elite sport in front of thousands of spectators and millions of viewers worldwide.
The parallel for anyone who ever goes in front of a camera or microphone is clear – don’t just accept what the journalist is saying to you. Feel free to challenge.
OK, Miss Konta might have lost her cool a little – and we wouldn’t advocate that in a BBC Panorama-style interview or crisis – but she stood up for herself in difficult circumstances, whilst giving a lengthy, heart-felt and honest answer to a ridiculous question.
And for that she deserves respect.