US Open 2016: Laura Robson is back in business after long-term injury

By Russell FullerBBC tennis correspondent
Laura Robson
Robson reached the fourth round of the 2012 US Open as a teenager
US Open
Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Dates: 29 August-11 September
Coverage: Live radio commentary on Radio 5 live sports extra plus live text coverage on the big matches on the BBC Sport website and app.

Laura Robson's recent holiday in Italy lasted all of six hours.

She found time to visit Mount Vesuvius and the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, she took her friends to the villa they had hired... and then she received an email from her agent with news of a wildcard into the US Open qualifying draw, and promptly headed back to the airport.

Forty-eight hours earlier, Robson had won her first tournament since the age of 14 - capturing the ITF title in Landisville, Pennsylvania. It was by far and away her biggest triumph since first feeling the effects of a wrist injury in the late summer of 2013.

She played only two events in the whole of 2014, and in April of that year underwent surgery on her dominant left wrist in Minnesota. Her recovery was a slow, painful and very frustrating process. She next played competitively at the Eastbourne qualifying event of June 2015.

By this time Robson had forfeited her WTA ranking. She was playing on a 12 month long protected ranking of 58 (the position she held at her last event before injury: the 2014 Australian Open) and the comeback was a very stilted affair. Other minor injuries held her back as she hit the practice courts hard and it is only since the start of this year that she has been totally free of pain in the wrist.

Robson's progress in the first six months of this year was unspectacular.

She has won only one tour level match since her return - and that came against an unranked Moroccan teenager in the first round of the WTA event in Rabat; she was soundly beaten by Andrea Petkovic at the French Open, and Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon.

But then, after dispiriting trips to minor tournaments in Fort Worth, Lexington and Sacramento in which she collected five ranking points and earned barely one thousand dollars, Robson won five matches in a row in Landisville - including the final without dropping a game.

The $3,919 in prize money was irrelevant, but the 50 ranking points helped her climb back into the world's top 250, and did wonders for her confidence.

"I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself when I had my protected ranking," Robson told BBC Sport after qualifying for the main draw at the US Open.

"You know you are on a limited amount of time so I wasn't playing as freely as maybe I should have - especially at the Slams.

"But I knew I was putting in all the right things on the practice court and in the gym. It was waiting for that one moment where it all came together. I was prepared for it - I knew that I had this long season of training behind me."

Laura Robson
Robson has not progressed further than the first round of any Grand Slam since 2013

Her reward for overcoming a nasty bout of conjunctivitis to win three qualifying matches at Flushing Meadows is a first round match on Tuesday with fellow British player Naomi Broady.

Robson is now being coached by the former British number one Lucie Ahl and Colin Beecher, and being watched here in New York by the LTA's lead women's coach Jeremy Bates.

"You see it a lot with athletes when they've had a long term injury," Bates explained, after Robson's early Saturday morning practice session.

"Mentally it's very difficult to fully commit yourself again to the physicality of the sport. At the back of your mind you're not quite sure if your body is going to break down or if it's properly healed.

"You can't shortcut it. At Wimbledon she was playing, but now when you see her play she's completely uninhibited, she's very mobile, she's chasing every ball. She's able to recover and compete as she used to. And you can see that she has no negative thoughts in her mind at all.

"It's completely mental - you've just got to get your brain around it."

Archive: Andy Murray and Laura Robson take Olympics mixed doubles silver at London 2012

Robson has lost virtually three years of her career - but yet she is only 22, and is still armed with a devastating forehand. She says she is working harder than ever on the practice court, and has proved in the past she has the temperament for the big occasion.

In the first eight months of 2013 alone, Robson beat Petra Kvitova en route to the third round of the Australian Open; had clay court wins over Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams; reached the fourth round of Wimbledon and then the third round of the US Open. As a result, she reached a career high ranking of 27.

Her involvement in the final Grand Slam of this year has, though, come as a lovely surprise.

After winning in Landisville, Robson's agent Max Eisenbud told her there was virtually no chance of her being awarded a wildcard into qualifying. Hence the flight back home to the UK, and then on to Italy for that girls' holiday.

She was soon gone. But not forgotten.

"I've had so many pictures of their sunset cruises and they have been tagging me in their Instagram as if I'm still part of the group," Robson said.

"We had squad necklaces and everything - it was a full on girls' trip.

"But they're very happy that I came here instead."

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