Robson will celebrate her 17th birthday later this month
By Alexandra Willis in Melbourne
Laura Robson was devastated to be missing out on this year's Australian Open in Melbourne, the city of her birth.
It would have been the young Briton's fourth appearance in a senior Grand Slam qualifying event and the 16-year-old was confident of breaking through to the main draw for the first time on merit.
Instead, Robson will be
spending three weeks off the court
after tearing the envelope of her adductor muscle [a hip injury] at the Hopman Cup in Perth, but her absence from Melbourne should not detract from the fact that 2011 is set to be a breakthrough year for the teenager.
"I think I worked really hard this off-season, so I feel a lot fitter than I did last year, we'll see how it goes," said Robson.
"I feel pretty confident with how I'm playing at the moment, so hopefully I can do well."
I can tell she is very motivated and she loves the game, loves the competition and I think she has what it takes to come to the top
It is a little under three years since the young left-hander announced herself on the world stage, winning the girls' singles at Wimbledon at the age of 14.
The months since that early triumph have featured flashes of potential rather than a sustained breakthrough but Robson has made steady progress as she aims to make the difficult transition from the junior to senior tour.
Twice a runner-up at the Australian Open juniors, she won her first senior title at the AEGON GB Pro-Series in Sunderland in October 2008, beat several big-name players in 2010 and has climbed her way, slowly but surely, up to a world ranking of 217.
That climb will surely get quicker. Under the tutelage of new coach Patrick Mouratoglou at his academy on the outskirts of Paris, Robson has quadrupled her work level and the Frenchman believes she can kick on significantly in the next year.
"She has a great potential, that's one of the reasons why I decided to do the job with her because she is a very interesting player," said Mouratoglou.
"I would say that she's still young and she already has a good ranking but still she can improve almost everywhere. We're on the way, but it's a long-term process."
Mouratoglou doesn't do things by halves. Mentored by renowned coach Bob Brett during his formative years, the Frenchman first entered the coaching spotlight as the man behind the success of Marcos Baghdatis, propelling the Cypriot to the world's top 10 and an Australian Open final.
He went on to take Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from outside the world's top 300 to number 27 in just a year, before assisting Aravane Rezai to three WTA titles and a spot in the top 20.
"I think there are many, many hours in the day and most of the people they don't use the time," said Mouratoglou.
"So I'm going to spend the time that I need to spend on Laura, she is my main concern now. I spend probably more than eight hours with her per day; this is the time I have to share to do the right job."
The duo have been working together for just a few weeks, spending the off-season training in Mauritius with a group of the academy's coaches and players, but already Mouratoglou is encouraged by what he has seen.
While there are nips and tucks to be made to her technique, one of his priorities is to improve Robson's fitness and movement.
"In one month I see a huge difference," he said. "Even when she's tired, she's doing the job, and I'm happy with her. My job is to be sure the work is done every day the way it has to be done."
As well as the benefits of the academy's infrastructure and resources, such as an intensive daily fitness programme, Robson is also enjoying being part of a group of up-and-coming young players, such as Grigor Dimitrov and Daria Gavrilova.
"It's a nice environment there," Robson explained. "Most of them talk to me in French and then I reply in English just because they make fun of my accent.
Laura did well against Francesca Schiavone. You learn from playing against those players, you gain experience
"I have lessons every day so I can understand pretty much everything apart from when they talk really, really fast and then I just zone out."
One of the other hurdles that Mouratoglou and Robson need to vault is that her age restricts her from playing a full senior schedule.
Only able to play 12 senior events in 2010, that number rises to 16 this year but is still nine events off a regular schedule for those aged 18 and over.
Plotting where and when she plays will be an exact science. Play too many big tournaments and she will struggle to get more than one match a week; play too many lesser tournaments and the jump up to WTA level will seem massive.
Ana Ivanovic, the former world number one and French Open champion, knows plenty about the challenge of reaching the top of the game and has high hopes for Robson.
"With a lot of hard work and the right people around her, I think she can reach really far from what I've seen," said Ivanovic, the world number 21.
"I can tell she is very motivated and she loves the game, loves the competition and I think she has what it takes to come to the top."
And her Hopman Cup team-mate, Andy Murray, has been impressed by her ability to challenge some of the world's best players at such a young age.
"Francesca Schiavone [who beat Robson at the Hopman Cup] is a very tough girl to play against," said Murray.
"She's one of the best players in the world and one of the most difficult players to play against, so Laura obviously did well against her and had some chances.
"You learn from playing against those players, you gain experience, you learn how to deal with those situations when you are ahead, and how to close out sets better."
Robson had been due to travel from Melbourne to play for Team GB in the Fed Cup in Israel at the end of the month and then on to two WTA events in late February but she will now be competing at two events on the women's ITF tour, the level below the main women's tour.
As with anything in sport, especially the development of young talent, only time will tell. But with Mouratoglou in Robson's corner, the signs are promising.
"The only way is to do the job, and then we'll see," said Mouratoglou.
"But she has a big potential. If I don't think she can go far, I wouldn't do it. A good coach needs to have results, so I need to have results, so I will."
She may be spending the first few weeks of 2011 confined to recovery but Robson has something to look forward to, at least. She turns 17 next week, and has one present in particular at the top of her list.
"I'm hoping that if I'm really nice to my parents, my Christmas/birthday present might just be a car," she revealed.
"That's my wishful thinking, no one has agreed to that as of yet, but I'm hoping."
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