The All England Club has been nice to her by giving her a wild card and the draw has been even nicer to her by offering up a journeywoman in the first round – Laura Robson is as happy as a clam.
On Tuesday, Britain’s former top female player will stride out on to the lush, green lawns of SW19 and take on the little known Evgeniya Rodina, the world’s 101st-ranked player from Moscow.
If I don’t play well, then it’s not the end of the world
Then again, if she had been drawn to play Mike Tyson in a bear pit, she would have been delighted. Simply playing tennis again after 18 months off with a serious wrist injury is a pleasure in itself.
Robson warmed up for Wimbledon by taking an absolute pasting in the first round of qualifying in Eastbourne last weekend – she won just one game – and even that was the most fun she had had in ages. Coming through that unscathed was enough for Wimbledon to give her a wild card and suddenly life was looking up. All the months of waiting, sometimes patiently, sometimes less so, were over. Robson was back and she was loving it.
“I don’t think anything is worse for an athlete than doing over a year of rehab,” she said, grinning from ear to ear (she was obviously very, very happy to back in SW19).
“So even though last week I got absolutely pummelled, getting pummelled is better than not playing anything at all. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think that the desire has been rekindled because it never went away; I’m happy to be playing in a way that I wasn’t before. And losing is not the end of the world, because there are definitely worse things.
“It is quite emotional to be back. It’s been a lot of seeing everyone all over again for the first time in ages, and a lot of, ‘How’s your wrist?’ I’ve got my go‑to answer obviously. It’s super exciting. It’s nice to see everyone again from the locker room attendants to the ladies who work at accreditation. It’s a good feeling.”
The go-to answer is concise but offers good news: “It’s perfect and there’s no pain,” she chirrups happily. But she knows that this week is the very peak of her year. From now on, the workload gets bigger while the attention and the pay cheques will get smaller. Robson has been away from the tour for so long that she no longer has a world ranking. In order to get back to where she was – her career high was No.27 in July 2013 – she must start from the very bottom and her trip to Wimbledon is more like a ‘get well soon’ present rather than a starting point.
“I know how well I’ve played and practised,” she said. “But obviously it doesn’t always translate to matches, as you must know. So my coach, my trainer, we’re all very patient.
“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, 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.”
To keep herself sane during the months of rehab, Robson bought herself a cat – a tabby called Waffles – and listened to a lot of Bro-Country music (it is, apparently, country music with lots of pop, rock and hip-hop influences). But it was keeping in regular contact with Juan Martin del Potro’s physiotherapist that kept her from panicking.
The 2009 US Open champion had a serious problem with his right wrist in 2010 and missed most of that season and then, just when he was fully recovered and back to peak form, his left wrist went. A couple of weeks ago, he had his third operation in 16 months to try to repair the damage once and for all, and for the second year running he has been forced to miss Wimbledon. Robson was keen to pick the brains of Del Potro’s physio to make sure that she was making good progress.
“It did very much help in the first few months after the surgery,” she explained, “knowing someone who had already gone through that process. When I felt a pain, we’d text her and say, ‘Is this normal? Did you guys feel this?’ It was reassuring to have someone say, ‘Don’t worry about it, this is the type of pain you can push through, this is just scar tissue’. Along with the actual doctor and the surgeon, there was a big group of people helping out.”
But now she is ready to play again and in a couple of days she will have her moment in the sun. If she plays well and Rodina doesn’t, who knows – she could have another outing. And if she takes another thumping and is heading home by Tuesday teatime, it does not matter. The real work will start when her Wimbledon is over.