Laura Robson: In the mood for more fame
British teenager revels in her return to Flushing Meadows after her breakthrough performances at the US Open last year
The changing-room locker that she had secured last year, sandwiched between those of the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis, has been taken by an upstart qualifier, but in other respects Laura Robson has good reason to be happy with her status as one of the game's outstanding young talents. The 19-year-old Briton is back at the US Open, where she made her big breakthrough last year by reaching the fourth round after victories over Kim Clijsters and Li Na, and has already noted a benefit as one of the 32 seeds.
Robson, who will be the first British woman to be seeded at a Grand Slam event for 26 years when the tournament starts tomorrow, said: "I'm on the show practice courts this year, which is a lot nicer than P97, back in the park. They're close to the locker rooms, which is helpful, rather than having to walk 20 minutes."
Robson, who is drawn against Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the first round, also enjoyed the privilege of practising in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the second of the show courts and the arena where she played two of her matches last year, even though it meant having to arrive on site at 7.15 in the morning.
Nevertheless, the No 30 seed still has some way to go before she is treated like a Williams or an Azarenka. "On my badge, I'm still parking lot E or F," Robson said. "Not quite the same as parking lot A."
The victory last year over Clijsters in particular did much for Robson's profile. She has noticed people looking at her as she walks around Manhattan, although she reckons they are British tourists. "They don't really say, 'Hi', they just stare, which is a bit awkward," Robson said. "We were walking past the queue for the One Direction concert they had this morning. There must have been a couple of hundred girls camped out. Some of them had been there for five days already.
"A couple of them are like, 'Oh my God, you're the one that Harry tweeted!' I don't think they know my name or anything."
The clearest indication of Robson's burgeoning status is the fact that she has changed management companies from Octagon to IMG, where she has become part of Max Eisenbud's stable. Eisenbud has enjoyed phenomenal commercial success with two other female players: Maria Sharapova is the world's highest-earning sportswoman, while Li Na is China's first Grand Slam singles champion.
"He works with some great players," Robson said. "They're a lot more established than I am, so hopefully if I put in a lot more work then I can get to their level as well.
"Li Na has a massive market in China, and Sharapova is such a big name that she can sell stuff anywhere. I think I've got a long way to go before I'm doing the kind of deals that they're doing."
Robson's run here last year was the launching point for a remarkable 12 months. She went on to become the first British woman to reach a final on the main tour for 22 years, beat the 2011 Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, at the Australian Open and reached a career-high No 27 in the world rankings after making the fourth round at Wimbledon, having knocked out Maria Kirilenko, the world No 10, in her opening match.
"I had a couple of big wins [here last year] but I thought it really gave me a lot of confidence going into other matches against top players thinking, 'I can beat them'," Robson said. "I felt like I was playing really well for the rest of the year. I played well in China and it ended up being a really long season. I was exhausted at the end of it all, but this year I feel a lot more rested coming into the tournament."
Robson has not been in the best form since Wimbledon. She suffered an injury to her right wrist while playing in Toronto, which restricted the amount of work she was able to do during a training block at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida.
"I tore a sheath that goes around the tendon," Robson said. "I was warming up for my match and I hit a backhand and felt it go. It's never happened to me like that before.
"Everything got super-inflamed and I had to have some cortisone put in there, but that seemed to help quite a lot. I've managed to have some hits. I hit points for the first time two days ago, so I'm pretty happy with how that's gone.
"We'll see when I play but I'm happy with how my rehab has gone. [The wrist] is still going to be taped but I'm hoping that everything will turn out well. It's on my non-dominant hand, so I've still been able to practise forehands, serves, volleys, things like that."
Robson has been working with her new coach, Miles Maclagan, who used to be part of Andy Murray's team, since the start of the grass-court season.
"I think we have the same ideas of how I want to play and what I need to improve," Robson said. "He's a very laid-back guy anyway and I think I am a fairly laid-back person, so it works well. We know when you get on to the court you have to work really hard. As a player Miles was a super-hard worker.
"I think when you understand what he wants to be working on then it's a lot easier to give everything, because you want to be working on the same things. Before, I was feeling that it wasn't gelling in the same way.
"I don't just want to be someone who hits the ball 100 per cent every time. You can play with freedom and still mix up the pace, mix up the spins and everything like that. That's what I want to be doing, because you get into that very one-dimensional kind of tennis if you don't work on slicing and coming into the net."
She added: "I think I've always been someone who steadily improves, and I'm still going that way hopefully. I feel the same way going into this tournament, but I'm just a bit more recognised by other people."
Laura is banking on the Max factor
Max Eisenbud, who has become Laura Robson's agent after wooing her for two years, says the 19-year-old Briton reminds him of Marcelo Rios, the hugely talented Chilean player who was briefly the world No 1.
"I think she's a special girl on and off the court," Eisenbud said. "That's a hard combination to find. I've been lucky to find a couple [Maria Sharapova and Li Na]. I just love watching her play.
"Tennis-wise – I hate to put this label on her – I see her as the female Rios. It's fun to watch. Players like her don't come along often so I was really, really fortunate to be able to sign her. I'm very happy.
"I think she's a very real girl. She's not fake. I think what you see is what you get. She's refreshing. She's one of those girls that everybody wants to be friends with."
As for her earning potential, Eisenbud said: "Even though the UK is such a big and strong market, I think if she continues to play well and stays healthy she could definitely become a global star.
"I think it's no secret that if she plays great tennis, with her charisma, personality and looks, it's obvious that she can be very big. But she has a lot of work to do. All that is on the back burner for now. We just have to let her focus and play."
THE MAX EISENBUD STABLE
Topped Forbes magazine's list of the world's highest-earning sportswomen for the ninth year in a row this summer, with estimated annual earnings of $29 million (£18.6m). Has deals with Nike, Head, Samsung, Tag-Heuer, Evian and Porsche.
Also has her own collections of tennis gear with Nike and with Cole Haan, a shoe, handbag and accessory designer. Set up her own confectionery business (Sugarpova) last year.
The 31-year-old Chinese player's business life has been transformed since Eisenbud became her agent in the wake of her 2011 French Open triumph. Deals with Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Rolex and Samsung have helped take her to third place in the annual Forbes list of the highest-paid female athletes, with annual earnings estimated at $18.2m.
Joined Eisenbud's stable last month. Has commercial deals with Adidas and Virgin Active but has barely scratched the surface of her earning potential. Has won just over $1m in prize money, including $491,000 this year.
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