From pet shops to pop concerts - how Laura Robson keeps herself in the groove for success
For Miami locals, the coming of March brings two very distinct sounds - and neither much resembles a cuckoo. One is the refined “plink” of ball on strings from the Sony Open tennis tournament on Key Biscayne. The other is the rumbling bass from the Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park.
There is usually little overlap between the two events, given that the first is frequented by retirees in golf visors, and the second by ravers in Day-Glo bikinis. But Britain’s most exciting young athlete, Laura Robson, is one exception - a woman who sits right in the middle of Miami’s Venn diagram.
“I went to Ultra on the first Friday when I arrived here,” said Robson, who turned 19 in January. “Then I sat in my room the next two nights listening to these heavy beats as my windows were shaking. I just remember thinking, ‘Ah, I want to be there so badly,’ but I was asleep by 10 o’clock. It was amazing to see Hungry Jack and Swedish House Mafia. We had a few of us there and we had a great time.”
Accompanying Robson among the ongoing hordes were her closest friends and contemporaries from junior tennis, Britain’s Heather Watson and Canada’s Genie Bouchard.
They were also joined by Marina Erakovic, of Croatian birth but now representing New Zealand, who became Watson’s regular doubles partner last year.
This is the strange lifestyle of the WTA tour neophyte. Mates one minute, rivals the next. Yet Robson’s generation seem to be better minglers than senior players such as Maria Sharapova - who has always stuck with friends from outside the game.
The newcomers also manage to stay in touch with the normal interests of any 19-year-old girl - fashion, music, social networking - despite the daily demands of practice and gym work-outs. During a tournament in Shanghai last year, Robson set about making a video with her smartphone and some editing software. It starred herself and Bouchard as they performed a version of the Gangnam-style dance craze.
“We’re like one big happy family,” Robson says. “We often practice together - I hit with Marina here before my first-round match. You are used to playing with these people, and you get a good practice out of it, which is what you want.”
But what about when the knock-up is over, the crowd arrives, and these would-be siblings have to compete for money and rankings points? “I played against Genie around this time last year, and she beat me,” Robson said, “but we were still friends after the match. We don’t hold grudges. You might know each other’s games pretty well but, at the end of the day, it’s just another match, you just have to take it as seriously as you can and try to win.”
Ever since she won junior Wimbledon at just 14, Robson has carried a greater burden of hope than any other player in her age group.
She has admitted that the pressure was difficult to cope with, conceding: “Everyone expects you to be able to beat Serena the next day, and it’s just not realistic.”
Robson has had to deal with a late growth spurt, several niggling injuries and a perennial issue with closing out matches. There were plenty of pundits asking why she was taking so long to blossom.
But since last summer - when she hooked up with a new coach in Zeljko Krajan - her singles ranking has soared from around the 100 to 43.
“It’s a tough transition to make [from juniors to seniors],” Robson said, “and it takes quite a strong person to do it because there aren’t that many good juniors who have come through in the last few years. The injuries were tough to deal with, but one thing I have never been is homesick.
“I guess I am just one of those people. My mum is like ‘Oh, don’t you miss us?’ I miss the dogs but, even when I was 11 and I went to Spain to train, I was like, ‘Yeah, see you dad! See you in three weeks, no big deal!’”
The Robson family’s two chocolate labradors - Ella and Kiri - mean a lot to her. In fact, her passion for dogs is so strong that when the frustrations of tennis build up, her first instinct is to head to the nearest pet shop. Not that the visit always works out quite as she had planned “Sometimes I get so sad in there,” she said.
“Because I just want to take all the puppies home, and my mum is like, ‘No’. I actually looked into it, and they need to be at least six months old to get their vaccinations for England.
“It was just depressing last time. We went to a puppy store near the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton. There were these two twin boxer puppies and someone bought the boy and not the girl. I was so depressed for three days because I thought ‘How can you buy one and not the other?’
“On this trip we haven’t been to one yet. We have two dogs anyway, so I think three would be a bit too much, especially as my mum is the one who looks after them. I come in every now and again, play with them, and leave her to take them for walks.” Robson’s parents continue to steer her life carefully.
Mother Kathy advises closely on tennis decisions like the hiring of Krajan — whose no-nonsense approach has clearly improved Robson’s fitness levels - while father, Andrew, an executive with Shell, looks after the finances.
Whatever happens, he will now be able to invest another $123,000 from his daughter’s run in the doubles here, although that figure could climb to $245,000 if she lifts the title on Sunday.
In the meantime, Robson herself is left to concentrate on her training and her tweeting - although she says she is keener on the photo-posting website Instagram. “It’s all about keeping fresh content everywhere.” As for the next dance video, she was scornful of the suggestion that she try a Harlem Shake.
“I think it’s a bit last week, isn’t it? Everyone’s done one, including the ATP guys, and the LTA as well. You would need virtually every single top player in one room with all these crazy outfits and I just don’t think I have enough time to organise that at the moment. So I am going to leave it to somebody else.”
Robson has never been a tennis tragic, not someone who wants to talk tactics and string tensions all day. Her new doubles partner Lisa Raymond could be heard chuckling on Saturday about the way she spends the break between sets “trying to figure out Lady Gaga’s dance moves and stuff”.
But then, there are plenty of cautionary tales surrounding young women who sacrificed their whole childhoods to tennis, Jennifer Capriati chief among them. Robson’s normality and sense of proportion may prove to be her greatest asset.
“I’ve been through some difficult patches,” she said, “but at the end of the day I chose to do this and I like it a lot. Maybe I even love it sometimes. So I’m happy.”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/tennis/9962631/From-pet-shops-to-pop-concerts-how-Laura-Robson-keeps-herself-in-the-groove-for-success.html