Laura Robson: Let's Celebrate Achievement, But Also Let Talent Nuture

Sing ChenCorrespondent IJuly 13, 2008

What sporting moment will be your memory of summer 2008?

Spain proving once and for all that the 'always the bridesmaid' tag can now be consigned to history?

What about Lewis Hamilton winning the British Grand Prix?

Or perhaps the farce that is the Dwayne Chambers circus of Olympic qualification?

For some, and in many ways for me, it will the result of a tennis match that took place at The All England Tennis Club, SW19. The longest ever Wimbledon Men Singles' Final. The statistics were there to support this heavyweight contest between the world's top two players in the men's game. Roger Federer, unbeaten on grass in 65 matches. Rafa Nadal, unbeaten at the French Open, and the player that handed out what can only be described as a spanking to Federer in the French Open Final only weeks earlier.

Like millions of other people I sat and watched the epic unfold, through rain delays, ebbs and flows. But no, not that match - that would be too obvious.

Laura Robson, at the ripe old age of 14, became the youngest winner of the Girl's Singles Title at Wimbeldon since a certain Martina Hingis; beating Thailand's near-unpronouceable Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in 3 sets.

As a keen follower of tennis but no more than that, watching mainly the Grand Slams and Davis Cup with only a passing interest in the ATP and WTA tours, I have watched with interest the debates around equal pay for women, the introduction of Hawkeye, and even the Wimbledon-only idea of the 'no final set tiebreak' rule. I can't roll off the statistics and history in the same way that the more ardent followers of the sport can.

I think many tennis fans are like me in this regard. I have noticed, as the years go by, the likes of Mark Petchey, Andrew Castle (I'll never forget that second serve net cord from Goran Ivanisevic at Match Point many years ago), Arvind Palmer, Jamie Delgado, Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman tease us with the smell of success.

At one point it did even look quite promising with both Tim and Greg at the height of their powers, rising through the ranks; Greg reaching the US Open final and Tim so desperately close to the Wimbledon final on more than one occasion.

The women's game has been even more starved of talent since Virigna Wade in 1977. Annabel Croft in 1984 won the junior title, but retired only 3 years later. Elena Balchatcha seems to be past her best - so now the nation has pinned it's hopes on someone who has not long become a Ms Robson.

With the Wimbledon Junior title in her hands, having  disposed of the tournament's No 1 seed along the way, she has become the saviour of British tennis; and this is where the problem lies; at the grass roots.

I don't have inside knowledge of the LTA, it's organisation and more importantly what it's long term strategy is - but was Brad Gilbert around for long enough to make any real impact? Could one man really have made the difference anyway?

Laura Robson has gone from unseeded contender to the glare of the limelight in a matter of weeks. Agents, sponsors and the media will be knocking on her door, if they have not already done so. 'No' will be a word she has to learn the importance of, and quickly.

She has to focus on the things that brought her the Wimbledon title. Carry on commiting the effort and dedication to training - to improving. I've no doubt her parents will make sure of that. But sometimes the allure of glamour and the accolades can be hard to resist - look at Gazza. Continue to play the sport for the love of it - not for the ranking points, not for the titles; that will come.

I'm sure there will be a clamour for Laura to be given the wild card for the seniors next year that junior winners get. At the risk of being controversial, I think she should decline and opt to compete to retain her junior title. I cast my mind back to the likes of Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, and to some extent, Martina Hingis.

We need to let this talent evolve naturally with the correct support framework in place. Let us not elevate Laura to the point where the nation's expectation sows the seeds of disappointment through failure before her career has even taken off. We have to enjoy the thrill of the moment, of her outstanding win. Excellence has to be celebrated - otherwise what is the point? But let us temper that will the realisation that if nurtured correctly, she has many years of what I hope is a successful career in front of her.