ANDY Murray had a message for those piling pressure on Laura Robson at Wimbledon: “Just let her enjoy it.”
Making the second week for Murray has become routine – the only time he has lost before the fourth round was when he was 18 – but having a home woman at this stage is a novelty.
Not since Sam Smith in 1998 have Britain’s women hit such heights, and it is likely to be Robson’s face not Murray’s that is splashed all over the papers this morning. Murray has waited a long time for someone to share the limelight, and not being the story in the first week has suited the US Open champion just fine.
Robson meets unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi today with a likely quarter-final against Serena Williams a tantalising prospect. Murray, though, insists Robson should be able to play without external pressure to do even better. He said: “I think you just concentrate on one match. She’s 19 years old, so just give her a bit of time to enjoy her tennis.”
Meanwhile, a leading sports marketing expert believes Robson can surpass the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill and become the highest-earning British female athlete in history if she lives up to her potential.
Robson pulled off a remarkable comeback on Saturday to beat Marina Erakovic and become the first British woman in 15 years to make the fourth round of Wimbledon.
Despite being just 19 years old, Robson is a big favourite to beat Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi in the next round and set up a probable quarter-final against Serena Williams.
Robson has been on the radar of major sponsors since she won the girls’ title at SW19 five years ago. She already has sponsorship deals with Adidas and Virgin and her earning potential will rise even further if she goes on to win grand slams, as many top pundits have already predicted she will.
“She has the potential to be the highest earning athlete ever that we have produced in Britain because tennis is such a lucrative and global sport,” said Nigel Currie, the director of sports marketing and sponsorship agency, brandRapport.
“If she wins a major she will then go in to the highest-earning bracket in the country for female athletes.”
Ennis-Hill, the gold medal-winning heptathlete, currently earns around £2 million a year in endorsements, but Robson could earn far more due to the fact that tennis has such a vast reach.
“Jess Ennis and a few of the other Olympians have done well, but we haven’t had successful women in tennis over the last few years.
“You are highly-marketable in tennis because you are known in every territory of the world.”
Should Robson, who has made £525,000 in prize money in her career, need to see how a promising junior player can go on to become a mega-wealthy superstar, then she should look no further than Maria Sharapova.
Forbes estimates Sharapova earns around £15 million a year in endorsements on top of her annual tour winnings. Given the lack of female tennis stars in Britain, there is a huge gap in the market for Robson, who earns around £400,000 from her association with Adidas and Virgin, to cash in. “She already has done a deal to front up Virgin Active health clubs, and there will be a watch deal and a car deal,” Currie added. “There are also unique products to the female market.
“There aren’t many female athletes in this country to use for those sort of sponsorships and endorsements like make-up and fashion and Laura would be in pole position. She has a great character, she is a bubbly person. She comes across really well and all that is important.”
Even though she will be playing in front of a partisan crowd next week, in reality there is little chance of Robson lifting the Venus Rosewater dish as Williams is in irresistible form.
But the 17-time grand slam champion, and former major winners Pat Cash and Virginia Wade, say Robson has the potential to win big tournaments in the future. So even if Robson does fall against Kanepi today, or against Williams, she will have boosted her earning potential because of her first week exploits.
“A good run in Wimbledon could double her current earnings,” Currie added. “There are bonuses that kick in, and there will be new sponsors who will come along. She did enough against Erakovic to show that she has moved to the next level.
“She showed she has mental toughness, she has answered a few doubters and potential sponsors will have seen that. They will be listening to what people say and they will see that she is one for the future.”