Let’s look at a map. Australia was the country where Johanna Konta was born. Spain was where at 14, she spent more than a year in Barcelona at the Sanchez-Casal Academy, her practice partners likely from many nations. During this time, Konta’s parents relocated to Great Britain, where after her period in Spain, Konta sharpened her game. That makes three countries where significant development occurred. The year she turned 21, Konta became a British citizen. She is now 26, justifiably celebrated as the hope of a nation that has not seen a British woman win the Wimbledon singles title since Virginia Wade in 1977.
But why does patriotism attach itself to tennis? Where exactly are these players from? Konta’s case is not that much different from others, many of whom prior to adolescence begin to crisscross the globe to compete, to train and as we’ve frequently seen, even speak. The multi-lingual skills of many tennis players are impressive. Citizens of a country? Scarcely. Tennis players are citizens of the world – or perhaps more accurately, citizens of the republic of the yellow ball.
Player development is scarcely the province of a single nation. It is global. How could anyone consider Konta a product of any specific nation’s tennis program? Ditto for Maria Sharapova (Russia, Florida, California), Tommy Haas (Germany, Florida) or Jared Donaldson (Rhode Island, Argentina). Virginia Wade, by the way, was born in England, relocated to South Africa at the age of one and returned to her homeland at 15.
Of course, should a player blossom, he or she will eventually relocate and affiliate to avail themselves of a nation’s tennis resources, tax breaks, or any other convenience that might benefit either player or host nation. With no desire to disparage the kindly Konta, given that she has Hungarian-born parents, she might well have received an offer from a tennis federation based in Budapest (similar to what Greg Rusedski did when relocating from Canada to Great Britain, or the same for Naomi Osaka with Japan).
Clearly, when it comes to matters of economics, I am so naïve. Ditto for patriotism. Sure, I’m happy to see Americans Sam Querrey and Venus Williams in the semis; but less due to where they come from and more because each is a likeable, engaging competitor who has worked hard to reach this place. How interesting that Roger Federer, the most popular player in tennis history, comes from the world’s longstanding neutral nation, Switzerland. If anything should transcend borders, it’s a sport played by individuals. But again, I’m naïve.