SHE is the great British tennis hope who today faces her toughest challenge.
Johanna Konta is two matches away from making history as she takes on five-time champion Venus Williams in the semi-final of Wimbledon.
And while we cross everything in the hope of crowning our first female champ in 40 years after Saturday’s final, the man who discovered her when she was just six years old is quietly confident the golden girl has got what it takes to win.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun, coach Les Hegyessy said last night: “She has the killer instinct, she will want to win.”
The Hungarian was giving lessons to Johanna’s mum in 1997 when her daughter picked up a racket one day and showed her natural talent.
Les, 76, who lives in Sydney, fondly recalls: “I can remember her forehand and her follow-through were awesome and to get the grip right at that age . . . most children hold the racket in a hammer grip but she held it very sure after a few lessons.
“She has the killer instinct. She hated losing and would bounce the ball in the same spot to get it right.”
Johanna, 26, always had a competitive streak, one her sister felt the brunt of when they were children.
She has said: “I made my older sister cry playing Monopoly once.
“I wanted the two blue ones. It was Mayfair and Park Lane. She was like, ‘Please don’t buy Park Lane! Please don’t buy Park Lane!’ So, obviously, I bought Park Lane.”
While Jo enjoyed her lessons with Les, it was not until she entered a tournament against other kids that she really caught the tennis bug.
She said: “That’s when my real love for it came. There was never a time when I thought it was just for fun.”
Her tenacity has seen her rise through the women’s WTA rankings to become No7 in the world.
In April, she won the biggest title to be held by a British female player since Virginia Wade triumphed at Wimbledon in 1977, taking home £937,000 after beating Caroline Wozniacki in the Miami Open final.
She joked afterwards: “I am going to Vegas, guys.”
Johanna credits her recent success to a visualisation technique, in which she plays each point in her mind before serving.
It also helps her manage her defeats.
She said: “I get quite stroppy if I lose but I’ve developed skills with a mind coach to help deal with the highs and lows of tennis at this level.”
That mind coach was sports psychologist Juan Coto, who took his own life last November, aged 47, after battling depression.
There was never a time when I thought tennis was just for fun
The Spaniard began working with Jo in 2014 and oversaw her remarkable rise from world No146 to the top ten in just 16 months.
As she celebrated beating Romanian world No2 Simona Halep in Tuesday’s quarter-final, her thoughts soon turned to Juan.
Speaking after the match, she said: “Juan was a tremendous influence. That went beyond my tennis career. It was more about me as a human being.
“He did a tremendous job in working on my happiness as a person, dealing with life in general. In turn, he helped me enjoy something I’ve loved since I was a little girl, and to try to be the best at that.”
Jo was born in Sydney to Hungarian parents — dad Gabor, a hotelier, and mum Gabriella, a dentist.
She was part of the Australian tennis development scheme but, in 2004, had her funding cut because she was regarded as lacking the requisite talent and potential.
Soon after, the Kontas moved to Europe, with Johanna training at the acclaimed Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, before settling in England.
After becoming a UK citizen in 2012, she said: “It made me feel more settled. I wanted GBR next to my name for a very long time.”
Jo was home-schooled so she could remain focused on her game.
Weybridge Tennis Academy coach Justin Sherring, who taught Johanna for two years at the Surrey-based club from 2010, spoke of her commitment, saying: “We spent two sessions a day outside because we could not get an indoor court. It was minus five degrees.
“We had six layers on and we were out practising hard. That showed her dedication. She was really exciting, very energetic, very bubbly, very vivacious.”
Justin immediately realised he had a special talent on his hands.
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He said: “I remember saying to her dad that she was top 20 material. She just had to believe it.”
Johanna also spent a year at the Sutton Tennis Academy in Surrey but the experience ended with academy founder Keith Sohl having to pursue her parents in court for up to £4,000 in unpaid fees.
But Keith bears no hard feelings towards the family, saying: “The parents came to us with the hope of having a sponsor, so we continued to train her, although money was owed. It was resolved and, unfortunately, these things happen.
“I don’t blame Jo at all. She was very pleasant and easy to get on with. Everyone liked her.”
She soon started competing for Great Britain and in 2014 switched her training base to Gijon in Spain — although home is a London apartment with a view of the Thames which she bought herself.
So far she has won more than £2million in prize money but still drove an old Peugeot hatchback until sponsors Jaguar recently gave her a new car.
While she relishes her wins, fame is of no interest to Johanna, who has said: “It becomes as important as you want it to. It’s not what I play tennis for.”
Johanna is determined to keep her private life out of the spotlight and has dodged questions about new boyfriend, Jackson Wade, 24, the manager of video and photography at the Lawn Tennis Association, the British game’s governing body.
Her previous partner, believed to be former coach Kether Clouder, 31, was referred to only as “The Boyfriend”.
She has admitted that having a relationship has helped “add some perspective” but any potential boyfriends might baulk at her family ambitions, with the player wanting “lots of children”.
For now, her focus is firmly on the present and US rival Venus, 37.
She said: “I’ve dreamed of success in every Slam. It makes it more special because it is home. I get that home support. I guess it makes it that much sweeter.”