Cruel in­juries have taught Rob­son value of pa­tience

For­mer Ju­nior Wim­ble­don cham­pion knows her come­back can­not be rushed

The Herald - Sport - - WIMBLEDON - BY STU­ART BATH­GATE

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

Pic­ture: Getty

PER­SPEC­TIVE: Laura Rob­son is happy just to be fit enough to play at this year’s Wim­ble­don.

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