Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne, AustraliaTennis - Australian Open - Melbourne, Australia, January 13, 2018. Johanna Konta of Britain reacts during a news conference ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Johanna Konta is free from injury, ready to put a terrible second half to 2017 behind her and with Andy Murray recuperating from hip surgery, happy to shoulder the burden of British tennis fans at the Australian Open.
The 26-year-old enters the tournament, historically the grand slam where she has done best, also with a new coach in Michael Joyce, who worked with Maria Sharapova from 2004-11 and helped the Russian to the world's top ranking.
"He is very relaxed," Konta told reporters on Saturday of working with Joyce as she prepares for a first round clash with Madison Brengle of the United States.
"He was a player, so he comes, with a lot of things, from the perspective of when he played as well.
"I think he can empathize a lot with some of the challenges and difficulties you face kind of pre-tournament, or in matches, or in practice, even in training, how you're feeling.
"He also coaches with a lot of feel, a lot of kind of intuition, which I think so far I'm really enjoying spending time with."
The Sydney-born Briton's move to appoint Joyce came after a poor end to 2017 when after she lost to Venus Williams in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, she won just two more matches, in Cincinnati, for the rest of the year.
Her struggles were exacerbated by a foot injury and while she managed to end her losing streak in Brisbane two weeks ago with wins over Madison Keys and Ajla Tomljanovic, she withdrew from a quarter-final against Elina Svitolina with a hip injury.
The injury did not stop her from playing in Sydney, where as defending champion she lost to former top-five player Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round.
Konta, however, said the warmup tournaments had given her what she needed for her third appearance in the Melbourne Park main draw, where she could face Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round and world number one Simona Halep in the quarter-finals.
"I'd like to think that I'm definitely further along than when I was before Brisbane, and even further along when I was in Sydney," Konta said.
"I think even that match in Sydney has helped me along my way in really trying to play at the level that I want to play.
"I think a lot of it will get better and better with time."
Murray's absence has also reduced the number of Britons in the main singles draw, with Kyle Edmund and Heather Watson the only other players having direct entry.
"I think it's sad not to have him here," Konta said of Murray's decision to have hip surgery.
"If anybody is going to be back at the top of their game, it's going to be him. His drive and passion for this sport is second to none. I like to think he'll be back, while I'm shouldering the burden."
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien)