Katy Guest: Game, set and match to Laura Robson

Wimbledon’s fathead tennis commentators
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The Independent Online

Few people came out well from last week's Junior Wimbledon débâcle involving opinionated middle-aged male commentators and their unique insight into the particular physiques of the younger female players.

Not David Mercer, who found it necessary to add to his knowledge of the tennis being played his observations on the physical development of 16-year-old girls: "Is Laura [Robson] mobile enough around the court? Perhaps a little puppy fat at the moment, the sort of thing you'd expect her to lose as she concentrates on tennis full-time."

Nor his colleague Barry Davies, who offered viewers his opinions about the 17-year-old player Tara Moore: "I gather, perhaps I shouldn't say this, but part of the problem was that she needs not to get too heavy. I mean, she went into tennis saying that she wanted to do it for the exercise. She's chunkily built and only 5ft 5in and she packs a bit of a wallop and there's a balance there that will be watched, I'm sure."

Only Robson herself, as it happens, has emerged from the row this caused showing the sort of maturity, style and aplomb at 16 that should make her tennis rivals nervous and put idiot commentators to shame. "It's not a big deal," she shrugged. "It's just his opinion. It doesn't bother me at all."

Nor should it bother her. As all the pictures of Robson show, she is, through a combination of luck and a healthy lifestyle, a very good-looking young woman. Strong, lithe, pretty and athletic, she has every right to be proud of the way she looks. But it's an unusual 16-year-old who is proud of anything about her body. And those without Robson's self-confidence must be rather confused about what has been said.

As Robson's mother did last week, Sarah Ferguson came out fighting two years ago when older female newspaper columnists wrote about her daughter, Beatrice. "Someone buy the poor girl a sarong," wrote one about a picture of Beatrice in a bikini. "Try putting down the biscuit tin, love," advised another. Another still wrote that the 19-year-old royal might need to "succumb to a fashionable food disorder like her late aunt". Beatrice's reaction, according to her mother, was to ask, "Will they be happy if I get anorexia?"

Obviously, it is a complex set of circumstances that leads anyone of any age to develop an eating disorder. But a quick google for blogs by young people with anorexia should make Mercer and Davies feel pretty queasy. "My mom was always telling me I was fat .... My husband told me I was fat, not in so many words, but.... I had a boyfriend and he was telling me I was fat when I was 5ft3in and 100lb...". And, again and again: "My dad thought that I was fat." It doesn't take much for a self-conscious young girl whose body is changing to find the insult in any comment, particularly from a parent, and particularly from an older male. But when a comment is largely based around the words "chunky" or "puppy fat", anyone would be hard pushed not to take it to heart.

Eating disorder charities have been quick to criticise the men's comments, wary of "a society in which more young women say they want to be thin than healthy". But children who have seen or heard about all this should know two things. 1: Your weight is nobody's business but your own and your GP's, no matter how much puppy fat you may be carrying. 2. Laura Robson is not carrying any fat.

They should also be advised to emulate Robson's response. This smart cookie did not give her press conference in tears after having her looks scrutinised by two old men. She didn't bin the ice cream or make herself sick; she went on to win her match 7-5, 6-1. Actions speak louder than words. And though she went out in the semis, she already looks set to improve on David Mercer's tennis career.