Nino Severino: Konta has fought her way to the top the hard way – and my wife would be so proud
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In this week’s column, Nino Severino shares his pride and admiration for British tennis star Jo Konta, after her fantastic run to the semi-finals of the French Open, and ahead of the Wimbledon Championships.
I always look forward to writing my column, but this week was extra special - because I can talk about the amazing success story of Jo Konta, our top British tennis star, who capped an incredible clay court season with a French Open semi-final fight-off against the teenager Marketa Vondrousova.
Considering clay is not Jo's favourite or most successful surface, this year has been an outstanding season on the "dirt" as it is called in the tennis business.
It's probably safe to say that Jo's clay swing this year has exceeded all expectations, with that run in Paris adding to her making finals in both Rabat and the massive Premier WTA Tournament in Rome.
Within the tennis fraternity, the clay surface is seen as a perfect run in to the grass court surface, conditioning the lower body to cope with the demands of the grass, and the low and fast balls you see on that surface.
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So now all eyes and attention will be on arguably the greatest tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon, where Jo will face the most incredible pressure as the home star.
I think she is ready to take this on - I truly hope her form continues, and she has an amazing Grand Slam on her home turf.
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I am pleased to say that I was very close to Jo's life when I was involved in tennis, and both Elena and I witnessed her progression.
I can write without exaggeration that her rise has been absolutely the stuff of sporting dreams. Fulfilling tennis goals and making it on the World Tennis Tour is an incredibly hard achievement to pull off, as many players and families who have tried can testify to.
But Jo has not only achieved WTA Tour status, she has become a global tennis star - this is nothing short of a miracle from my perspective, and such an amazing achievement for so many reasons.
I watched Jo as a young, up and coming player over a number of years, and for many reasons, her experience was not a great one.
Every time Elena and I watched her play at the national training centre, we always thought she had something very special but, for some reason, her tennis world just couldn't come together, and we watched her experience some very difficult periods.
I'm so pleased to be able to write about the special friendship that Jo and Elena developed. Jo was coming through the ranks, and Elena was a senior player, who would help and support any young British talent coming through.
I remember Elena having a very soft spot for Jo, she would talk about her in a very warm and supportive way, and genuinely wanted the best for her.
Tennis players have a gruelling schedule travelling around the world, literally competing in all four corners of the globe, and Jo was no different - she was digging in and fighting hard to achieve what she knew she was capable of, but unfortunately during this early period it really was not going well for her.
I remember once we saw her in the lounge at Dubai airport and, believe me, her experience then of the World Tour was completely different to what she will be experiencing now as a global tennis star.
Jo was on her own, grinding it out, digging deep, being strong and believing in herself and her hopes and dreams. Elena asked her to join us, and it was lovely seeing them chatting, clearly were very comfortable with each other.
Another time that really stands out for me, was at the US Open Grand Slam. Again Jo was on her own, this must have been so very tough for her, and proves what an incredibly strong woman she is.
Elena came over to me and said: "Jo is on her own tonight, I'm going to ask her to join us for dinner."
This really was a reflection of my wife, a compassionate, caring, supportive person - anyone who has experienced the world of top level tennis, will know this is not something that is offered on a routine basis!
We took Jo to our favourite restaurant, Di Tony's, one of the best Italian restaurants in New York. I have memories of this evening like it was yesterday, Elena and Jo chatting away, it was a great change for us, and a lovely experience.
I remember after one of Jo's great Grand Slam semi-final matches, she was asked to appear on the Jonathan Ross Show. I watched her answering the questions with such clarity, confidence - looking every part, the tennis star she had become.
I could not help but think back to that very special night in New York, those days when Jo was fighting hard, digging deep, on her own, being so strong. She has fought her way to the top the hard way, the tough way, and has proved herself to be an incredible role model to the many millions of girls around the world who are all now fighting for their dream, and probably fighting a very tough battle.
I texted Jo three years ago, I asked her if she would become an ambassador for The Elena Baltacha Foundation, she texted back immediately, accepting my request, and I am sure that a big part of her acceptance was the fact that Elena and Jo had a very special relationship.
Only a few months ago, Jo showed what an incredible ambassador she is, taking time to have photos with one of our foundation players at the historic Federation Cup match at The Copper Box in London.
Jo is an exceptional woman, as well as an outstanding tennis player. I know my wife would be very, very proud of her.