Cruel injuries have taught Robson value of patience
Former Junior Wimbledon champion knows her comeback cannot be rushed
IF everything had gone according to plan, Laura Robson would be a contender for the Wimbledon title by now. Instead, a series of injury setbacks has left her simply glad to be here at all.
Now 21, the former British No 1 won Junior Wimbledon in 2008. When she graduated to the senior circuit, one of her first matches at the Championships was watched by Angela Mortimer, Ann Jones and Virginia Wade, the three last Britons to win the women’s singles. When the trio sat together, the symbolism was obvious: here they were, watching the teenager they were sure could succeed them.
Robson may lack the bustling, battling qualities of Heather Watson, but when she is on song her timing is superb, allowing her to generate far more power than would be expected in someone of such relatively slight physique. And she was on song all right two years ago, when she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and made it up to No 27 in the world rankings, becoming the first British woman to break into the top 30 since Jo Durie a quarter of a century earlier.
Then a wrist injury forced her off the tour early in 2014, and unexpectedly kept her on the sidelines for the rest of the year and then into 2015. She eventually only made her comeback in qualifying for Eastbourne last week, and although she took only one game against Russia’s Daria Gavrilova, she was pleased simply to be back on court at last. “Even though I got absolutely pummelled, getting pummelled is better than not playing anything at all,” she said on Saturday.
“To be honest, I would have preferred to start at smaller tournaments than Wimbledon. I think I’m pretty realistic that my level is not at the point where it was before I was injured.”
The question now, as she prepares for her first match at a major in 17 months, is how long it will take her first to get back to that level - and then to recommence the climb towards the upper reaches of the rankings. Her opponent on Tuesday is another Russian, Evgeniya Rodina, who is ranked just outside the top 100 but has not won a match at one of the Grand Slam tournaments for four years. That would, in normal circumstances, lead you to believe that Robson had a chance, but she is realistic enough to know her progress is likely to be gradual.
“If I don’t play well, then it’s not the end of the world, because we all learn in tennis that there’s always next week,” she said. “There’s always going to be another week for me, because I’m injury-free. I think that’s the main thing.
“If it doesn’t work out after this tournament, I’m going to go play some challengers in America. It’s going to take a while. But, yeah, patience.”
While Robson has to wait another day before getting into action - and will probably have to wait a while longer before she again navigates her way into the second round of a major - Watson only has to wait until late on Monday afternoon before she faces Caroline Garcia of France on No 2 court. The current British No 1 got the year off to a great start in Hobart when she won her second WTA title, but although she then lost in the first round of the Australian Open she has since picked up form again. At Indian Wells in March, her win over Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland was the first time she had beaten a top-ten opponent.
Garcia is the No 32 seed and the favourite to win, but Robson knows that if she plays close to her best she can get through to the next round.“I’ve definitely had some highs and lows,” she added. “But the highs have been quite high. I am really feeding off of that.
“I feel very, very good about my game. I just had a little lapse, I think, in the clay-court season. But back on the grass and I’m feeling great. Today at practice is the best I felt so far with my game.”
On paper, Johanna Konta has been handed the toughest draw for a Briton - she faces Maria Sharapova on Centre Court. The 2004 champion and runner-up last year, Sharapova is seeded second this year and should be a formidable opponent. But if there is a time to meet her it is early in a tournament, as she often takes time to find her best form. With a vociferous crowd behind her, Konta could at least rattle the Russian.
Another Briton, Naomi Broady, plays Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia today in an evening match.
Even though I got absolutely pummelled, getting pummelled is better than not playing anything at all
PERSPECTIVE: Laura Robson is happy just to be fit enough to play at this year’s Wimbledon.