Robson intent on greater feats after her quick conquest of Britain
Monday 07 July 2008
What now for Laura Robson, 14, and a Wimbledon champion already? Following her impressively mature win in the girls' singles on Saturday – 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 against Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn – she is Britain's most famous teenage girl.
The kind of leap she has made in a week from obscurity to national treasure has not been seen on these shores for, errm, several weeks, since 14-year-old George Sampson fell on his back in a puddle to win Britain's Got Talent.
And before then, it was the day earlier this year when the diver Tom Daley, now 14, confirmed his place at this summer's Olympics, setting in motion a juggernaut of hype that will track him from Beijing to London 2012 and beyond. If it hasn't run him over before then.
While all three of those children are variously talented beyond their years and peers, it needs reiterating that long, hard roads lie ahead. A more mature – and successful – sporting nation would probably let Robson and Daley get on with things more quietly.
No less an authority than Venus Williams – talking to The Independent late on Saturday night after her own win here – had some advice to pass on to Robson on that subject.
"It's important for her to really believe in herself and not really listen to hype," said the five-times Wimbledon singles winner. "Don't read any papers, or watch programmes about herself on TV. Just focus on her game and believe that she can do it. Don't worry about anything else. As long as she does that she'll probably do well – just don't get too involved in the hype."
Williams saw Robson stating her jokey intention to "take her down" in the women's singles next year. Robson will almost certainly get a wild card for that, and Venus applauds Robson's attitude.
"I think it's amazing," the American said. "I am really rooting for her. I hope that she continues to develop. It's important to develop during the stage she is now. She's awesome, but really developing your game [is the most important thing]."
Aficionados have been familiar with Robson's progress for several years. Though born in Melbourne, she has lived in England since she was six and is indisputably British. Carl Maes, the LTA's head of women's tennis, has known her since she was seven.
She is now based at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton and, while Wimbledon was her first tournament win of 2008, she won three international events last year, including the prestigious Eddie Herr event in Florida. She has also reached five other finals against girls up to four years older.
In beating Lertcheewakarn, 16, Robson showed she is improving the key aspects to her game – a big left-handed serve and hard, accurate groundstrokes – and working to eradicate the negatives. Her temper used to get the better of her but she has cut the tantrums and is mentally tough enough to fall breaks behind but recover.
She looks physically capable of "training on". For a girl of her age, she is tall and strong and athletic, which will give the height and power advantages not available to her tennis heroine and sometime mentor, Martina Hingis.
Hingis won junior Wimbledon aged 13 in 1994, the year Robson was born, and then the women's event at 16, making the Swiss the youngest winner for 100 years. "Hopefully, I'll beat that record and win it at 15 next year!" said Robson yesterday, joking. Or to be accurate, mostly joking.
Already "Robbo" appears convinced she can return in 12 months and win a match or two in the women's event. Her development plan, however, does not involve jumping out of junior events just yet, and she is unlikely to play even low-level WTA tour tournaments until late 2009.
The junior game is a poor indicator of whether a player will make it as a grown-up. Stanley Matthews Jnr, son of the football great, won the boy's singles at Wimbledon in 1962 but was never heard of again. Britain's Miles Kasiri, runner-up in 2004, has gone AWOL since. And unless you wear a tennis anorak, this is probably the first sentence you've read containing the names Vera Dushevina and Kirsten Flipkens, respective winners of the 2002 and 2003 girls singles.
On the flip side, since Hingis won the Wimbledon juniors in 1994, Wimbledon junior winners have included Amélie Mauresmo (in 1996), and three top 50 women's players in Katerina Bondarenko (2004), Agnieszka Radwanska (2005) and Caroline Wozniacki (2006). Junior Wimbledon final losers include Kim Clijsters (in 1998), Maria Sharapova (2002), and the women's world No 1, Ana Ivanovic, in 2004.
Britain's last girls' winner in SW19 was Annabel Croft, in 1984, the year she turned 18. She retired from the game at 21.
'I'll take Venus down next year'
Laura Robson explains what winning the title meant
How does it sound, Laura – junior Wimbledon champion?
It sounds really, really good. It was so good [on Saturday] because all the crowd was behind me. It was just an overwhelming experience.
Playing on a show court for the first time, you seemed so relaxed and composed out there. Did you actually feel like that?
Not at all. I thought I was going to be sick when I walked out on court because there were so many people watching.
All this week people have been talking about history, about Annabel Croft, about you being the future of British tennis, but what's impressed everybody is not only your tennis but the fact that you just got your head down and got on with it.
In the second set [in the final] I went a bit mad. But I got it back together, and that's how I won, I think.
We saw some screams in the second set, but they disappeared in the third.
It was more "Come on!" screams in the third.
I know you said you were going to invite Marat Safin to the Wimbledon Ball. I understand you got a letter from the Russian.
His agent gave it to me and it said "To Laura" – I've got it memorised, actually: "To Laura, I'm sorry I couldn't come to the Ball but good luck for tomorrow." And then he signed his name. It was really nice.
He's turned you down, though.
Unfortunately. I think he's a bit old for me, anyway.
And in terms of plans for next year, hopefully you'll get the wild card to come into the main draw. Is that the plan?
This year they gave it to the winner of the juniors so, hopefully, they'll give one to me next year.
How do you fancy taking on the likes of Venus Williams, who won the main title today?
I'll take her down.
We'll make sure to let her know you said that, Laura.
What happened next The girls who won Wimbledon
Urszula Radwanska (Pol) bt Madison Brengle (US)
2-6, 6-3, 6-0
Currently ranked No 190 in the world, the Pole lost to Serena Williams in the second round of Wimbledon 2008.
Caroline Wozniacki (Den) bt Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovak) 3-6, 6-1, 6-3
The world No 30, Wozniacki lost at Wimbledon to Jelena Jankovic in the third round.
Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) bt Tamira Paszek (Aut)
Urszula's sister has won four singles titles; lost in the fourth round of Wimbledon to her sister's conqueror, Serena.
Kateryna Bondarenko (Ukr) bt Ana Ivanovic (Serb)
6-4, 6-7, 6-2
World No 47, Bondarenko lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round at Wimbledon.
Kirsten Flipkens (Bel) bt Anna Chakvetadze (Rus)
6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Andy Murray's mixed doubles partner at Wimbledon 2006, Flipkens has only once entered the singles top 100.
Vera Dushevina (Rus) bt Maria Sharapova (Rus)
4-6, 6-1, 6-2
Dushevina was beaten by Bethanie Mattek in the second round at Wimbledon.
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