Robson shows the maturity to take giant leap in her stride
Next week the British 15-year-old will be the youngest Wimbledon competitor since 1995 – not that it looks likely to unsettle her
Friday 19 June 2009
Calderstones Park in Liverpool is about 200 miles from Wimbledon, but when Laura Robson arrives at the All England Club next week it will feel like she has crossed a solar system. Robson has been one of the main attractions at this week's Liverpool International exhibition event, but national and international interest will rocket to another level when the 15-year-old makes her senior debut at Wimbledon.
Robson proved with her victory last summer at junior Wimbledon, where she won the final on a packed No 1 Court, that she has the mental strength to take fame in her stride. The All England Club last week awarded her a wild card into the main field in both singles and doubles, in which she will partner her fellow Briton, Georgie Stoop. The draw will be made at Wimbledon today, with Robson's name going into the hat alongside those of players like the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic.
For most of this week Robson has been trying to keep a low profile, with her advertised appearance at a press conference in Liverpool cancelled because of "training and education requirements". Her first opponent at Calderstones Park yesterday was Chloe Murphy, a local girl who does not even have an International Tennis Federation junior ranking. Robson won their first-to-eight-games set 8-6 but often struggled in the tricky conditions. With Murphy attacking and finding a good rhythm on her serve, Robson made a number of errors on her ground strokes.
"It was freezing out there," Robson said. "She played really aggressively, which was hard for me. I thought I served well and that's what got me through in the end."
Robson, who beat Britain's Emily Askew 8-1 in her second match yesterday, was the first home player to win junior Wimbledon since Annabel Croft in 1984 and will become the youngest Briton to play at the All England Club in the Open era. At 15 years and five months she will be the youngest from any country since Martina Hingis in 1995. Indeed only 10 younger girls have played at Wimbledon in modern times, among them Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati and Andrea Jaeger.
Martina Navratilova, nine times a Wimbledon champion, is among those who have been impressed by Robson's progress. Speaking at the launch of the HSBC Champions of Wimbledon website, Navratilova said: "She has a really nice game. She's a really bright kid and she seems to have a good group of people around her.
"They need to keep everything in perspective for her. She just needs to stay on course, have a well-balanced life. There will be huge hype at Wimbledon, but it's just another tennis match and she should just take it as a stepping stone.
"She plays pretty aggressively from the baseline. I'd like to see her come to the net, because I think that can pay off, especially on the grass."
Robson made her debut in senior competition at the end of last year, but has played only junior tournaments in 2009. She has focused this year on her education and took advantage of her second-round defeat at the French Open earlier this month to return home to take two GCSE exams.
After an injury scare – which proved to be nothing more than growing pains – she took three months out of competition after losing in the final of the Australian Open juniors. She returned to action last month on clay and has played two exhibition events, at Nottingham and Liverpool, since reverting to grass.
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