Margaret Court can go on her crabbing holiday away from the Australian Open unburdened by the worry that the world’s leading tennis players might boycott the arena named after her.
A succession of stars pledged that they will play where they are told this fortnight, regardless of her controversial views on sexuality.
Billie Jean King’s outspoken attack on Friday, when she declared she would refuse to play on the MC Arena if she was a player, has not fallen on fertile ground.
Jo Konta is still working through the consequences of her dramatic slump during last year
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza was fairly representative on Saturday in saying: ‘I will play wherever they put me, on which court. So I’m not even thinking about it. That’s it.’
Jo Konta was a little more expansive, although the underlying sentiment was the same. ‘I will look to be prepared for whatever court I’m playing on,’ she said.
‘In respect to the controversy, I don’t agree with what Margaret Court has said. However, she’s entitled to her own opinion.
Konta goes into the Australian Open – where she is No 9 seed – feeling positive once more
‘It’s unfortunate that this whole thing has occurred, because it does overshadow why her name is on the court. It’s not because of her beliefs, it’s because of her achievements in the sport. They’re actually quite separate.’
Konta regrets that the row has blurred the values of the Grand Slams. ‘They’re about equality, about showcasing men and women, wheelchair tennis,’ she said.
Court and Serena Williams are the sport’s most decorated major champions, holding 24 and 23 singles titles respectively. Neither will be here this fortnight, but their absences will be felt in different ways.
Having no Serena carves the field wide open and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, confirmed that she is now unlikely to be seen before the BNP Paribas Open in California in March. ‘The intention is for her to play Indian Wells, but then the plan was to play here. At the moment she intends to play Indian Wells and Miami,’ he said.
The British No 1’s start to 2018 has been more positive, although she suffered an injury scare
The two nominal favourites for Melbourne, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina, are being priced at an inviting 8-1 by the bookies.
So Konta, with her strong recent record here, can be considered a genuine contender, among many others. She is comfortable enough with the idea of carrying the majority of British hopes in the absence of Andy Murray, when she begins on Tuesday against America’s Madison Brengle.
‘It’s something you really don’t feel,’ she said. ‘It’s an 11-hour time difference, I guess that has something to do with it. I like to think he’ll be back, while I’m shouldering the burden.’
Barely two years have gone by since Konta shot to prominence. The first serious downturn she has since experienced was the five-match losing streak at the end of last season.
Konta opens her Australia Open campaign on Tuesday against American Madison Brengle
As she pointed out, it is not the only trough she has gone through. ‘It isn’t documented because no one cared, but when I was around No 150 for a long time, there were periods where you go through emotions of whether you can still do this, whether you are even any good at this.
‘It’s easy to catastrophise a lot of things as well when you’re so immersed in this bubble, which is tennis. I’d like to think as I’ve got older, I do a bit better with that.’
She is over the hip issues that caused her to pull out of Brisbane in a match where she often looked the better player than Svitolina.
Former Australian tennis great Margaret Court (left) has outspoken views on gay issues
Billie Jean King believes the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne should be renamed
Halep starts as top seed, with Caroline Wozniacki at No 2. Both of them belong to the club of women players who have held the world No 1 spot without winning a Grand Slam title.
The match of the first week could come in the third round, where 2016 champion Angelique Kerber — who is reviving under Konta’s former coach Wim Fissette — could play Maria Sharapova.
The Russian’s chances should not be discounted on her return to Melbourne Park after last year’s enforced absence.
She knows how to win Grand Slams, and the format of having a day off in between matches to recuperate also works in her favour, given that back- to-back matches have sometimes proved a struggle since her comeback.