YOU know when you have made it at the US Open when you are allowed to practise within walking distance of the locker room.
And, for the first time, Laura Robson, the world No.32 and the No.30 seed at Flushing Meadows, has reached those dizzy heights.
As she prepares to defend the ranking points she earned by reaching the fourth round of the US Open last year, Robson finds herself playing in a different league. She is managed by the sports giant IMG, she has Max Eisenbud supervising her diary – the same Max Eisenbud who has turned Maria Sharapova into a global brand – and she has Miles Maclagan, Andy Murray’s former coach, guiding her on the court. But for a lingering wrist injury, her life would be almost perfect.
Robson tore the sheath around the tendon in her right wrist three weeks ago – and if it wasn’t for that, the sensible money would be on Robson reaching the third round and possibly beyond. Li Na, the world No.6, is her scheduled third round opponent – and Robson beat Li at the same stage here last year. But Britain’s top ranked female player only returned to the practice courts a few days ago, so she has not set herself any targets.
“We’ll see when I play, but I’m happy with how my rehab has gone,” Robson said. “It [the wrist] is still going to be taped, but I’m hoping that everything will turn out well. I hit points for the first time two days ago, so I’m pretty happy with how that’s gone. It’s on my non-dominant hand, so I’ve still been able to practise forehands, serves, volleys, things like that. And I’ve been on a mini training block in Florida. So it’s been fine.”
Robson will begin her campaign against Lourdes Dominguez Lino. The diminutive Spaniard scurries around the court, retrieving everything and hitting high, looping moon-balls in the hope of driving opponents to distraction. A fully fit Robson would hope to pulverise her rival, but not even she knows how her wrist will feel come match day.
There are some compensations, though and, as a seed for the first time, gets preferential treatment.
“I’m on their show practice courts this year,” she boasted, “which is a lot nicer than P97, back in the park. It’s close to the locker rooms, which is helpful rather than walking 20 minutes.”
One setback though has been that one of the players from the qualifying competition took her favourite locker. “I’m hoping whoever it is doesn’t qualify so I can take it back,” she harrumphed in mock indignation. But, if her wrist holds up and she can repeat her fourth round success of last year, she, IMG and the mighty Max will ensure that no one dares nick her locker again.