Robson grows into role of great hope

A year after thrilling Wimbledon with juniors' title, teenager prepares to take centre stage again
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like most British 15-year-olds, Laura Robson has been sitting her GCSEs. Few of her contemporaries, however, have had to juggle their exam schedules with the demands of the professional tennis circuit. In that respect, a second-round exit from last month's French Open had its compensations, Robson admitted yesterday.

"I was supposed to take two exams in Paris but then since I lost relatively early I could come home and do them in London," the teenager said, before playing the second of two low key but nonetheless encouragingly competitive practice matches against the Russian Olga Savchuk at the Nottingham Masters yesterday.

In terms of her physical preparation for Wimbledon, where Robson has received a wild-card entry to the senior draw after winning the junior tournament last year, it was a useful start. Similarly, it helped to re-accustom her to being in the public spotlight, although Robson was keen to stress her expectations are relatively low.

"I'm going to play women's singles and doubles, junior singles and doubles, hopefully mixed as well, and just go and enjoy the whole experience," she insisted. "Someone asked me yesterday if they played first-round junior matches on centre court, and I'm like, 'No!' But last year it was really fun playing in front of over 10,000 people, I think it was, so hopefully I'll get to do that again. And then there was something silly like five million people watching on TV, which is crazy."

Sitting alongside Robson at the press conference – and immediately volunteering to partner her in the mixed doubles – Greg Rusedski also said it was important to keep expectations in check. "I hit with Laura this morning, and she's hitting the ball well," said the former Wimbledon quarter-finalist. "She won the juniors last year, and I'd say just go out there and enjoy it, keep working on your game for the future, and don't let the expectation get overwhelming. Just keep on enjoying it, and have a good attitude, and I'm sure she's going to go far. She's a great striker of the ball, and a great player already, so her future's very bright. But get away sometimes from the spotlight, because she's only 15, and she needs to do other things like 'Twilight', and different things like that."

Robson laughed at the reference, admitting she liked the popular teenage film, but both she and her entourage are clearly and perhaps uncomfortably aware she will be the focus of near hysterical attention when she takes the court in south-west London. But she is markedly taller than she was last year, and also appears to be fitter and stronger.

"I've grown quite a lot since last summer," she said. "I think I was around 5' 7 last year, now I'm more around 5' 10. When I was growing I felt a bit uncoordinated, now it's fine."

Contrary to reports, she said she has not spent time at the Las Vegas training camp run by Gil Reyes, the physical conditioning coach famous for his work with Andre Agassi. After her defeat in the final of the Australian Open junior tournament in January, when she appeared to run out of steam, Robson's coach Martijn Bok warned of the need for patience.

"It's not about now, it's about several years' time when she is fully grown," the Dutchman said. "So long as she concentrates on getting the maximum out of herself without being put under huge pressure to win, the results will come." Against Savchuk, Robson's movement appeared good, and her double-handed backhand effective. Given the Russian is ranked some 300 places higher, the fact both matches were relatively close – Robson lost the first and won the second – will be seized on as an indication of continued progress before preparations continue in Liverpool this week.

"Friday was the first match I've actually played on grass this year, so it's been really fun to be able to do something that's not too serious, but still really good practice for Wimbledon," she said.

"C'mon Laura!" squawked voices in the crowd. Better get used to it.

Wimbledon wunderkind

Early life Born 21 January 1994 in Melbourne. Mum Kathy is a former professional basketball player. The family moved to Singapore when Laura was 18 months old and then to England when she was six.

Career highlight In her first junior grand slam at last year's Wimbledon, she beat Noppawan Lertcheewakarn 6–3 3–6 6–1 in the final. Short-listed for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year.

Playing style Left-handed with a two-handed backhand. Former Grand Slam champion Pat Cash called her "a special talent".