Wimbledon 2011: Laura Robson ready for hard work

By David OrnsteinBBC Sport at Wimbledon

Going toe-to-toe with Maria Sharapova in a Grand Slam second round at the age of 17, Laura Robson gave British tennis fans a tantalising glimpse of what the future may hold.

Robson was just 10 when Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, yet on Friday she found herself leading the world number six 4-1 and looking every inch a top player in the making.

The talented left-hander eventually went down 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 but she certainly left an impression on all who witnessed the match, not least her opponent.

"I think she has great potential," said former world number one Sharapova. "It's a really long road - there will be many tournaments, many losses and many wins.

"She'll get that experience behind her and she'll be a better player."

Although relatively little has been seen of Robson since she captured the junior title three years ago, it is clear that significant progress has been made - physically and technically.

A recent growth spurt saw her shoot up to just under 6ft and she now possesses a rapidly-maturing game, featuring a heavy serve, thunderous groudstrokes and a devilish drop shot.

Her year has been hampered by injuries, her tournament appearances limited by age restrictions and her Wimbledon preparations disrupted by a split with coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

But all of that was cast aside as Robson beat 77th-ranked Angelique Kerber on Wednesday - her maiden win at Grand Slam level - and then pushed Sharapova to the limit.

"I'm definitely really, really disappointed," Robson admitted afterwards. "I thought I could have played better on the big points - that's where her experience definitely showed.

"It's a good learning experience for me, it's good to know that I can play as well as the top girls."

However, Robson is the first to admit that any thoughts of mixing it with the leading lights of women's tennis must be put on hold for the time being.

She is currently the world number 254 and that means competing on the gruelling ITF challenger circuit while attempting to qualify for WTA tour events.

Robson addressed the media with refreshing honesty, acknowledging that the hard work starts now.

"It's really easy to play well on a day like this where you've got a big stage, a big crowd, lots of support, you're playing against a top 10 player, especially someone like Maria," she explained.

"It's going to be hard going back to the lower tournaments, but you've got to do to earn the right to play on such a big court again."

That was a view echoed by her conqueror.

"For everyone it's a really long road," stated Sharapova. "It's great and it's important to play in front of thousands of people with the support of the British crowd, but as you develop your game it's just as important to play the lower tournaments where there aren't many people watching.

"You're in the third set and you have to win because that ultimately leads to experience. You learn a lot from those matches. She's got to keep learning and keep playing and keep working hard.

"That's really what it comes down to, grinding out the matches where you don't necessarily have thousands of people behind you. You're in the middle of nowhere, playing lower tournaments where you can maybe throw your racquet a few more times than at a bigger venue. I think learning is a big thing."

Writing in , British number one Elena added: "It's great that Laura has won a match at Wimbledon and I'm sure that she picked up lots of great experience against Sharapova.

"The next step for her is to keep her head down, keep working hard and trying to come up with performances like that consistently.

"Wimbledon is great but playing well here isn't the be-all and end-all. She needs to build up her ranking and keep trying to develop, tournament by tournament."

Those tournaments will be mapped out once Robson establishes a new support set-up.

Since parting company with Mouratoglue she has been working with a combination of Lawn Tennis Association staff and coaches from the Adidas player development programme.

Robson conceded "I can improve on everything" and Nigel Sears, the LTA's head of women's tennis, believes this is what makes her such a thrilling prospect.

"There's a long way to go, a lot of scope for improvement, and that's the exciting thing," Sears told BBC Sport. "She's playing at this level yet there's still a lot she can work on, so we've got a lot to look forward to.

"Laura is fearless, has a big-match mentality and has always been an outstanding ball striker, with a game lends itself to grass. She needs to get in the best shape she can and work on her movement and footwork.

"If she does that then with her strike I think she can be a very, very fine player indeed."

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