For as long as Johanna Konta has been in the public eye, she has followed a strict policy of remaining positive in her interviews, even if many of her upbeat statements seemed to be made through gritted teeth.
But yesterday, after a dismal 6-4, 6-3 defeat to world No. 93 Yulia Putintseva in Paris, Konta finally revealed her frustration. Looking wan and emotionally drained, she set out on an extended analogy in which she compared the assembled reporters to “bastards” and suggested that the media had made her job more difficult.
Asked if she had been aware of pre-tournament negativity about her record at the French Open – where she had lost all three of her previous main draw matches – Konta leaned back in her chair and, for once, said what she really thinks.
“Well, you guys can answer this for me, then. If every time you went in to work … let's say you went into work because, obviously, you travel, and let's say for a few years your pieces of writing have just been crap every time when you come into Roland Garros. Right? Just crap. And then your colleagues start to say, ‘You know, you really suck around that time.’ And that happens, you know, for a few years.
“How would you guys digest that, and would you feel any sort of lingering kind of, ‘Oh, you know what? I want to prove these bastards wrong.’ And it's just kind of lingering there. So it's not something I would like to buy into, and I don't think I do. However, you guys don't make it easy.”
Konta has tried to foster warm relations with the tennis press, even bringing a huge Tupperware box full of home-baked muffins to her end-of-season debrief last year. Although she did rather spoil the effect when she then admitted that the gesture had been her publicist’s idea.
But she has always preferred playing the game to talking about it, and her lack of success over the last 11 months has only exacerbated the problem. Since her defeat at the hands of Venus Williams in last year’s Wimbledon semi-final, Konta has reached only two quarter-finals from 16 tournaments entered.
As the 22nd seed, Konta went into yesterday’s match as the favourite, despite her previous struggles at Roland Garros. From the first game, though, her groundstrokes lacked control, and her tally of 32 unforced errors from 19 games meant that she was effectively starting most games at 0-30 down.
“Out of my four main draw matches that I've played here, this is probably the one I'm most disappointed [with],” Konta said afterwards. “I never quite found my rhythm. I just had a bad match.”
The narrative will change now as Konta leaves clay – always her weakest surface – and returns home for the grass-court swing. Yet she can expect to face a different kind of pressure over the next couple of months. Her form on British soil was so strong last season that she will be defending 1,200 points up until the end of Wimbledon – almost 60 per cent of her total.
To return to Roland Garros, yesterday’s result was all the more disappointing because Konta’s section of the draw lost its two highest seeds. Defending champion Jelena Ostapenko went down to Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine, and 37-year-old veteran Venus Williams fell to China’s Wang Quang. This was the first time in Williams’s career that she had gone out in round one of consecutive slams.
Ostapenko committed 48 unforced errors and 13 double-faults in her 7-5, 6-3 defeat, and later explained that she had picked up a niggle in Rome that prevented her from training properly last week. “The day began not like in a nice way,” she said. “You woke up and some things went wrong and then you are kind of p----- off. Didn't really matter who is on the other side. Any player who could hit like five shots back I think probably could beat me today.”
Finally, the withdrawal of Nick Kyrgios with a sore elbow yesterday created the bizarre situation where no-one was sure who would step in to play his scheduled opponent Bernard Tomic today. Seven lucky losers from qualifying had already been drafted into the main draw as back-ups, and the next man in line, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, had already left to play a Challenger event in Italy.
As a result, the spot will probably go to Italy’s Marco Trungelliti, who was persuaded by the guaranteed prizemoney of around £17,500 to make a nine-hour drive back from Barcelona last night. However, Trungelliti will have to be on site by 10.30am today to sign in.