Johanna Konta: I’m playing Coco Gauff, not her social media following

Johanna Konta has vowed not to be overawed by teenage superstar Coco Gauff in the first round of the French Open.

Konta’s clash with 16-year-old Gauff on Sunday will be one of the highlights of the opening round.

This is the American’s main-draw debut at Roland Garros but she is already a proven grand slam competitor having reached the fourth round of Wimbledon and the Australian Open and the third round of the US Open.

Taking on Gauff is a psychological challenge for more experienced players, and one that many women have already struggled with.

Konta is determined not to fall into that trap, saying: “I’m very clear on the fact that I’m going in playing another professional tennis player who is one of the best ranked in the world.

“It doesn’t matter if she’s 14 or 40. I think she’s there for a reason. It’s going out on court respecting the player that I’m about to play. I’m going to be playing against the tennis that she brings, not her social media following, not her persona.”

Gauff is ranked 51, just two short of her career best, although she has only won one of her last four matches and must deal with sky-high expectations wherever she plays.

Konta, who is aiming for another good fortnight after her brilliant run to the semi-finals last year, said: “I think it’s quite normal, whenever there’s a young player that does exceptionally well, it is going to be sensationalised. It is just the nature of sport.

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“I don’t know her that well. I know she’s very mature for her age. That’s why she’s able to compete at the level she’s competing. She’s physically and mentally mature enough to deal with the demands we have on tour.

“Obviously she’s going to just keep getting better and better. It’s going to be a very good challenge for me. I’m looking forward to playing her.”

Gauff has shown remarkable maturity off the court as well by taking on a leading role in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The teenager addressed the crowds during a protest in her home town of Delray Beach in June with an emotional, off-the-cuff speech.

Konta said: “I think there’s a few players on our circuit who this movement will hit a lot closer to home maybe than other people.

“I think her and Sloane (Stephens) and Naomi (Osaka) have all been very vocal, rightly so. I think it just shows her maturity. It shows obviously that she’s been able to grow this platform that she has. She’s using it towards something that she believes in.”

The draw was not kind to Britain’s biggest names, with Andy Murray paired against Stan Wawrinka while Dan Evans, seeded for the first time at Roland Garros, will take on former world number four Kei Nishikori.

The Japanese player has dropped to 35 in the rankings, one place below Evans, after injury but remains one of the best athletes and cleanest hitters on tour.

Evans, a committed clay phobic, agreed it was probably the worst draw he could have had, saying: “You guys know how good he is. No one really needs to question his quality. It will be a difficult match. I have to go out there and try my best to win the match and see what happens.”

The British number one, meanwhile, questioned the decision of the French Tennis Federation to admit fans to Roland Garros.

The FFT had hoped to have 11,500 people through the gates each day and made no secret of its disgruntlement at having that reduced to 1,000 amid soaring rates of coronavirus.

Evans said: “It’s obviously very important that the safety of everybody is kept in mind. Hopefully we’re not rushing back to get fans. We can worry about not playing with fans for a little longer. Right now it isn’t a great time I don’t think.”