Reality will soon dawn for rising star


ON TENNISAlready we know far more about Laura Robson than we should, writes Johnny Watterson

DAY 13 of the Wimbledon Championships and all the talk and lead tennis stories in the London press was of Laura Robson, the 14-year-old who became the first British winner of the junior girl's singles event since Annabel Croft in 1984.

Robson's success shifted the tournament winner Venus Williams from the top of the pages in sports sections. Her smiling face appeared on the covers of several including the Mail on Sunday, which devoted five pages to her victory, the Sunday Telegraph and the People.

The People's headline on the back page read "Laura's a star and now she's chasing Venus". The Telegraph read "Robson our new darling". Robson has, without introduction, become the future of the women's game in Britain and the second best known player in the country after Andy Murray.

She has the same agent as former Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis, who also won junior Wimbledon as a 14-year-old and when she heard of the ability of the young Wimbledon resident as a nine-year-old, she invited her to Switzerland to train.

Robson's mother was a professional basketball player, her father an oil executive and she was born in Australia and lived abroad until she was six and a half. Already we know far more about this young teenager, who went back to school yesterday, than we really should know.

We know, too, the Sunday Telegraph described her as "gorgeous" and "a new princess". The adolescent has taken her first step from the tennis academy into the more rigorously sexualised glamour world, courtesy of the national media. How many male players are ever described at 14 years old as "handsome" and a "prince" by middle-aged female writers? Hopefully those guiding Robson, who has signed with the Octagon management company, will see through all the hype and the attempts to shape her into something that fits the idealised, feminised, glamorised, sexualised, plasticised, female tennis player.

There is only one thing better than being good looking and that's being a winner with it. That she is contracted to such a globally-known company indicates there is a lot of money in the kid.

The landscape is littered with corpses of young winners who were unable to take the step up, or if they did were unable to sustain it. Croft was one. Anna Kournikova was, arguably another, or, at least she was unable to sustain her tennis.

Croft's should be a cautionary tale for the youngster. She got to the highly respectable world ranking of 21 but at the age of 21 became tired of the monotony and relentless travelling and retired before becoming a successful tennis presenter and game show host.

Robson's precocity is not exceptionally rare in tennis, especially in the women's game. Belgium's Kim Clijsters was a former world number one and reached the Wimbledon fourth round at 16. American prodigy Jennifer Capriati reached the semi-final at 15, having been the Roland Garros semi-finalist the year before. Tracy Austin, who was commentating for the BBC over the championship, was a Wimbledon semi-finalist at 16 in 1979 and Hingis won her one and only Wimbledon senior title as a 16-year-old.

The common denominator between those players other than their ability to do well in the game at an early age is they all retired at an early age. Capriati had injury and personal problems with her father, and was finally caught stealing trinkets from a shop in Florida, then fell away from tennis in 1994-'95 before making a successful comeback and retiring three years ago.

Clijsters retired after the Australian Open in 2007 at 24 after a series of chronic injuries. She married last July and had a baby this year. Unlike Lindsay Davenport, she has no plans to return to become one of the few tennis moms in the game.

Hingis also had chronic injury difficulties and disappeared off the scene after the 2002 season. She didn't show her face for three years, came back for the Australian Open in 2006 and retired at the end of last year. She was only 22 before the first gap years and 27 when she finally stopped competing on the tour.

Britain, and especially England, are desperate for a champion because Wimbledon means so much to them and because they have been unable to produce a champion, despite the fact that the championship itself acts as a cash cow for the game, worth tens of millions of euro each year

Robson's achievement was inspiring and in interview she comes across as articulate and intelligent. Even if she does not become a Wimbledon winner she may have a successful tennis career. But the pressure, the expectations and the willingness to cast her as a sexual object have begun and that is not a good sign.