MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Johanna Konta spurned the country of her birth to play tennis for Britain but the Sydney-born 24-year-old has enjoyed huge support from the Melbourne Park crowds during her run to the Australian Open fourth round.
After upsetting Venus Williams in her opening round match, Konta said she had no intentions of switching allegiance back to Australia but there was no cold shoulder from the crowd at Hisense Arena on Saturday.
Konta demolished 66th-ranked Czech Denisa Allertova 6-2 6-2, making her the first British woman to reach the last 16 in Australia since Jo Durie in 1987.
“I have been amazed with how much support I’ve gotten, but I don’t know if that’s a British contingent here or if that’s from my Australian roots,” Konta told reporters.
“I’m just very grateful for all the people that do come out. Whether they are supporting me or the player I’m playing against, it’s always good to have a lot of people around. It brings good energy.”
The loss of locally born athletes to other nations, particularly those who end up representing arch-rival Britain, is difficult for sports-obsessed Australia to swallow.
Konta has been compared by local media to Laura Robson, who was born in Melbourne but ended up winning a mixed doubles silver medal for Team GB at the London Games.
Australia, however, has also embraced foreign-born tennis players, with Muscovite Daria Gavrilova switching nationality from Russia only weeks ago — just in time to help her adopted nation win the Hopman Cup and also make a run to the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
Other players with more tenuous links have been ‘adopted’, including Belgian four-times grand slam champion Kim Clijsters, who was affectionately known as ‘Aussie Kim’ due to her relationship with local champion Lleyton Hewitt.
Former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic was also embraced as ‘Aussie Ana’ after she became involved with top local golfer Adam Scott.
Though a resident of Australia until her teen years, Konta has sounded like an enthusiastic tourist during her time in Melbourne and has raved about the country’s culinary delights.
“You guys need to eat passion fruit here. It’s unbelievable,” said Konta, who faces a tough match against Russian Ekaterina Makarvoa, a semi-finalist last year, to reach the quarter-finals.
“And toast and chia pods. I don’t know how to say it, but, again, great.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)