Konta a strong contender for Australian Open title, says Annabel Croft

Published: Wednesday 11th January 2017 by The News Editor

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Annabel Croft sees Johanna Konta as a future grand slam winner and would not be surprised if it came as early as the Australian Open.

The first major tournament of the new season begins in Melbourne on Monday and the women’s draw again looks very open.

Serena Williams, now 35, played her first tournament since the US Open in Auckland last week and suffered a shock early loss.

World number one and defending Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber has also had a stuttering start to the season.

And Croft, one of Konta’s predecessors as British number one, thinks the 25-year-old could be the player to take advantage.

Now a member of the top 10, Konta has built impressively on her surprise run to the semi-finals in Melbourne 12 months ago, and has made a fine start to the 2017 season.

Croft told Press Association Sport: “She’s in great form, very fit physically, unbelievably consistent, very headstrong, just one of those names that any of the players in the draw would see as a nightmare because you’re in for a rough ride when you draw her.

“Everything’s impressed me about her. It’s the way she goes about her business, she’s so utterly professional, she’s so incredibly hard working, she’s applied herself in every single aspect you could imagine to try to improve, and all those little bits have come together to make her a real force to be reckoned with.

“You keep waiting for her to wake up and think about where she is, and is the pressure going to get to her, but actually she does the opposite. She continues to forge ahead and I’d definitely put her right up there in names you’d put forward as potential grand slam champions.

“It’s not as if you’re saying there’s four or five names at the top who are unbeatable. When you look at the names ahead of her, she’s beaten most of them, and it doesn’t take much for a draw to shift, and she’s someone you can imagine would take advantage of any potential opportunities. The fact she’s been in the semi-finals of grand slams before, why not go further?”

The player Croft believes could present the biggest danger to Konta and other title hopefuls is Czech Karolina Pliskova.

The 24-year-old defeated both Williams sisters to reach the final of the US Open last summer before losing narrowly to Kerber.

While other leading names have struggled, Pliskova began the season by winning the Brisbane International.

Croft said: “She’s looked really good and everything seems to be coming together for her. Her serve is just phenomenal; it’s one of the most beautiful service actions I’ve ever seen, I’d put it right up there with Serena’s serve.

“She’s taken a little bit longer to develop her tennis, but I also think the combination of her working with David Kotyza, who was Petra Kvitova’s coach, could be quite deadly.

“They’re off to a flying start and I think she’s going to be the one that’s going to be tough to beat.”

Croft will be presenting Eurosport’s coverage of the Australian Open, and matches on every court will be available to watch on Eurosport Player.

“If you’ve got your favourite tennis player on an outside court, you can go and watch them now and that’s phenomenal,” she said.

The favourites on the men’s side are more obvious, and it would be no surprise if for the third year in a row Novak Djokovic and Sir Andy Murray met in the final.

Djokovic has lifted the trophy six times, beating Murray on four occasions, while the Scot is bidding for his first title after five final losses.

After usurping his rival to become world number one at the end of last season, Murray appeared to have the upper hand, but Djokovic responded by winning another titanic struggle in the final of the Qatar Open last weekend.

Croft said: ” It’s phenomenal the way those two push each other to greater heights every time they get on the court. I would think for both of them it’s given them information and it’s also made the world sit up again and say, ‘We can’t write off Novak just yet’.

“I did think what was interesting was how nervous he got trying to close it out in the second set, which could be a new thing, but then what was so impressive was how strong he was mentally in the final set.

“I think it’s going to be so, so exciting if we get that as an Australian Open final.”

:: Watch exclusive live coverage of the Australian Open on Eurosport and Eurosport Player

Published: Wednesday 11th January 2017 by The News Editor

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