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Laura Robson is searching for a new coach after splitting with Zeljko Krajan, of Croatia, only nine months into their partnership. The 19-year-old British No 1 teamed up with Krajan before last year’s US Open, in which she defeated two former grand-slam champions, Kim Clijsters, of Belgium, and Li Na, of China, with breathtaking assurance.
Since then, despite the boost of a second-round victory over Petra Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion, at the Australian Open in January, her results have been patchy.
Robson will play Ana Ivanovic, of Serbia, in the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open on Centre Court tonight, buoyed by her victory over Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, on Monday, her first success against a player ranked in the world’s top five. If the freedom she displayed in that success had its roots in the departure of her coach, it may turn out to be a very wise decision.
Ivanovic is coached by Nigel Sears, the former head coach of women’s tennis at the LTA and someone who knows the Robson psyche as well as anyone. “I shall need to try to put her under pressure because she has great potential and has shown that she is very comfortable on the big courts,” Ivanovic, the former world No 1, said. “I have had some criticism of my fitness, as I know Laura has, and yet I feel better on clay than anywhere else.”
Krajan, who flew home yesterday, did not want to be drawn on the reasons for the break-up with the world No 41, only to indicate that the decision was reached mutually and without rancour.
The striking of the partnership, which came as a bolt from the blue last August, was seen as a message of intent from the teenage left-hander and a vote of confidence in her potential from someone who had coached at the very top of the women’s game. Krajan’s record was impressive, not least in being instrumental in the rise of Dinara Safina, of Russia, to the world No 1 ranking in April 2009, where she spent 26 weeks. Although she won 12 singles titles, a grand-slam tournament eluded Safina from her two appearances in the French Open final and a third in Australia.
Krajan gave a single interview in his period of employment with the former Wimbledon junior champion, which was to The Times a couple of days before the US Open, after which he was asked not to speak to the media any more.
In that article, the 34-year-old said: “Surely she [Robson] can be part of the group with the chance to win the bigger tournaments. She definitely has the material to be there but I don’t want to focus on the rankings.
“My job is to develop her game, because she is very far from using her potential. She doesn’t even know herself how good she is. I have to open her eyes a little bit more to what she has. “She needs to find the new things she needs from her game to improve. The process has to be worked on a lot, she doesn’t have to rush, it is the daily work that has to be done.”
This year, Robson has played 17 matches on the tour proper — [not including those in the Fed Cup for Great Britain — ]and has lost ten times, six of those in the first round. She had not won back-to-back matches since the Australian Open in January until she came from a set down to beat Magdalena Rybarikova, of Slovakia, in this event on Saturday and then, bursting with confidence, dropped just four games against Radwanska, the No 4 seed.
It would seem likely that Krajan was perturbed at the earlier sequence of setbacks, although they have not prevented Robson’s rise up the rankings, which, should she prevail today, would take her to within an ace of a seeding at the French Open next month.
As for the opportunity to work with a talent such as Robson, there is unlikely to be a shortage of candidates to replace Krajan as coach. As a junior, she was coached by Martijn Bok, of the Netherlands, who decided to stop travelling to start a family.
Then, for a couple of months at the start of 2011, Patrick Mouratoglou, the Frenchman at whose academy in Paris she trained, travelled with Robson. However, that was only a temporary arrangement.