Laura Robson takes on US coaching team ahead of Australian Open
Laura Robson names Americans Jesse Witten and Nick Saviano as her new coaches after slipping to a world ranking of 45
Laura Robson, who turns 20 during the first Major tournament of 2014, the Australian Open, announced this week that she has taken on the 31-year-old American Jesse Witten as her travelling coach and hitting partner.
She and Witten will also work with the 57-year-old Nick Saviano, at whose academy in Florida she is based for her off-season training block.
Witten reached a career-high No167 in 2010, the last year in which he played an ATP main-tour match—he lost to Michael Llodra in the first round of Wimbledon—and while he has no previous coaching experience, the tie-up follows the pattern of the numerous top women on the tour who employ men as hitting partners.
Robson has worked on and off with fellow left-hander Saviano since she was a junior, and he currently coaches her good friend, the WTA Newcomer of the Year Eugenie Bouchard. He will continue to accompany the Canadian teenager—Bouchard is just a month younger than Robson—on the main tour.
According to Tennis.com, Robson has also hired fitness trainer Mark Wellington, who has previously worked with Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, to travel with her full time.
This is the third change in Robson’s coaching line-up this year as the No1 Briton continues to search for the elusive ‘fit’ that may bring her greater consistency after another season of see-sawing fortunes.
Robson ended 2012 with her first WTA final in the bag in Guangzhou, together with a breakthrough run at the US Open, where she reached the fourth round by beating two Grand Slam champions back-to-back: Kim Clijsters and Na Li.
At the start of this year, she broke into the top 50 after taking another Major scalp, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open. Come May, she beat No4 Agnieszka Radwanska—for the loss of just four games—in Madrid and then Venus Williams in Rome.
However Robson’s form and results blew hot and cold. Prior to Roland Garros, she lost six times in the first round of tournaments, all but one of them to lower ranked players.
It was during that spring dip that she separated from Zeljko Krajan, who subsequently commented that she was “not mature enough to do this kind of work enough times for me. She needs to be more serious and to commit herself more.”
Her response was very frank: “I do lack maturity—in press conferences in particular! No, we didn’t really click. He’s free to say whatever.”
She then worked with Sven Groeneveld, one of the Adidas Player Development team, and Lucie Ahl from the Lawn Tennis Association, and appeared to be in no hurry to take on another permanent coach, saying in Rome:
“I have really good help at the moment with Sven and Lucy. It’s not long term but for now it’s good enough. I’ve worked on and off with Sven since I was 12 so he knows my game well, I really understand what he’s trying to tell me. I haven’t even thought about a replacement yet—probably not until after Wimbledon.
“I haven’t had on-court coaching in the last couple of matches. And last year I was pretty much coach-less around Wimbledon and it seemed to work out pretty well.”
However, after a first-round exit from the French Open and ahead of the grass season, she announced that she would be working with Andy Murray’s former coach, Miles Maclagan, for a trial period.
It seemed to work a treat: Robson reached the fourth round at Wimbledon with a notable win over No10 seed Maria Kirilenko along the way. It took her to a new ranking high of 27 and a seeding at the US Open, where she reached the third round.
But after the good run through Asia in 2012, she suffered another dip this autumn, winning just three matches in four tournaments, and announced a parting of the ways with Maclagan. She said on her Facebook page:
“I want to thank Miles for stepping in on quick notice to be my coach this summer. I have great respect for him as a person and coach and look forward to continuing our friendship.
“I will take a couple weeks off to refresh my mind and body and will keep my fans updated on my coaching situation.”
While Maclagan quickly tied up with Sam Stosur, Robson has remained without a coach since that October announcement. She ends the season ranked 45, so knows already that she will almost certainly face the Australian Open draw as an unseeded player, and that could throw the very best into her path from the very first-round.
Not that big names in big events have been her downfall. It will be the ASB Classic in Auckland, where she begins the new season on 31 December, that brings the first test of the latest coaching arrangement.