British No 1 Johanna Konta is looking up again after freak neck injury

Jo Konta’s opening round at the Australian Open pits her against someone who has made the opposite journey in life.

The British No 1 spent the first half of her life in Australia before heading to Europe, while Ajla Tomljanovic was heading the other way, born and raised in Croatia before heading down under and finally gaining citizenship a year ago.

Tomljanovic is known not just for her ranking of 47, but also for being the longstanding girlfriend of her adopted country’s highest profile player, Nick Kyrgios.

This will be of scant relevance when they meet on the second day of the season’s first Grand Slam, with Konta the only one of the eight British singles players not featuring on the Monday.

More of an issue could be the fact that she had to pull out of the Sydney International after a strange series of events caused by a sudden injury to her neck.

Konta retired from the second qualifying round there, but was then given a ‘lucky loser’ slot in the main draw due to her relatively high ranking, only to then pull out of the official first round when the injury failed to clear up as expected.

‘I was warming up and my neck just kind of seized up — I couldn’t turn left and I couldn’t look up so that made it particularly difficult to hit normal strokes and also serve,’ she said. ‘It was just a bit of a random thing and unfortunate, but I can look up now!

‘It’s pretty much almost completely normal. I can live with this. You don’t realise how much you use your neck until you can’t use it.’ 

Konta began the season in Brisbane with a big win over Sloane Stephens but then lost to the same Tomljanovic who she now faces.

‘I don’t know if you guys have noticed but I seem to play the same players, usually, we sort of do a rotation,’ she said.

‘It’s a great opportunity for me to play someone I’ve just lost to who played very well and for me to try to do better, to try to immediately learn from how that match went.’

Konta has often played well at this event, reaching a semi-final and quarter final in 2016 and ’17 respectively. Her second round loss a year ago was the precursor to a relatively lacklustre season which saw her finish 39 in the world.

There have been tentative signs of a pick-up in form as she begins working with another new coach, Frenchman Dimitri Zavialoff, who has been concentrating on trying to help her think more clearly about her match strategy rather than relying on instinct.

‘A lot of the work that we’re doing is not going to necessarily have immediate effect,’ she said. ‘It will take time to implement. Like with anything, it takes time to make it a habit and one you don’t have to think about.’

Four British men and three women were due to be in action on the opening day, as they all found themselves in the bottom half of the singles draws: Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans, Cam Norrie, Harriet Dart, Heather Watson and Katie Boulter.

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