Remember 2017? You know, the year when Jo Konta won Miami and made the semifinals of Wimbledon and cracked the top five? That was two years ago. It feels like eight or nine. Nevertheless, Konta has obviously demonstrated in the past that she can play top-tier tennis. She made the 2016 Australian Open semifinals before she raised her ceiling in 2017. She can play. She has endured many ups and downs. She is aware of what professional tennis requires of its participants, in ways that 19- or 20-year-olds are still learning.
Konta isn’t very likely to be a top threat during the clay-court season, but after making her first-career clay-court final in Rabat by defeating Alja Tomljanovic, maybe we are beginning to see Konta shake off the discomfort and uncertainty created by her wilderness journey. Maybe she is ready to step into the sunlight of the main stage. Maybe she is ready to replicate the no-frills groundstrokes which, when finely calibrated, make her a relentlessly consistent hitter and, as a result, a very tough out on the WTA Tour.
I hesitate to put too much emphasis or value on a good week in Rabat. A good week in Rabat is not the same thing as a good week in Madrid or especially Rome. It is its own reward, yes, and that much should be celebrated. For Konta to make a first clay final is something she should indeed feel free to cherish. Nevertheless, what predictive value does this run in Morocco contain, relative to the future? Probably not too much in the next month of clay competition.
The real value of this week in Rabat might simply be the fact that Konta has made her first final of 2019 and has regained — if only for a short while — the sensation of taking the court day after day and stacking together wins. That kind of muscle memory — even if in a small tournament, and even if on clay in Africa — could help Konta (or any other athlete) later in the year at Wimbledon and then in the North American summer hardcourt season.
Jo Konta needed a week like this to happen. Naturally, she would like to create a week like this at a bigger tournament, but to borrow a familiar expression, “You have to start somewhere.”
We will see if this week in Rabat was the start of something bigger — and maybe big on an absolute scale — for Jo Konta.