Greg Rusedski, a man who knows a thing or two about playing the ace card, believes Britain’s Laura Robson could reach the world’s top ten – as long as she improves her serve.
The former US Open finalist, who with a top speed of 149mph once held the record for the fastest ever delivery, says Robson has the forehand and backhand to trouble the best.
And he even praised the 19-year-old for improving her movement, which was much maligned when she broke on to the senior circuit, a fact that has helped her climb to No. 35 in the standings.
Indeed Robson has shown she has the game to see off some of the best, only two weeks ago she hammered world No.4 Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets – on clay, to add to the scalps of major winners Petra Kvitova, Kim Clijsters and Na Li.
However, Robson’s serve oscillates between outstandingly good and outrageously bad and having beaten Venus Williams in Rome last week, she then lost to Serena in the next round.
There is hardly any shame in that but it could have been different had she not surrendered eight double faults and five service breaks. Indeed she won just 28 per cent of points on her second serve.
And that is where Rusedski, who on June 9 will play an exhibition mixed doubles match to open the new Ann Jones Court at Edgbaston Priory, says she has to improve.
“With her it’s the consistency of her serve,” the TV pundit said. “Once she gets the consistency of her serve that’s when she gets to make really big strides in the game and hopefully break into that top ten in the world.
“From a return point of view and in terms of ground-stroke production she’s very much up there. The two areas that keep on needing to be improved are the serve and movement, which she is working on. If she can get the consistent serving she’s going to make big strides.
“Her movement has improved but it can always get better, even the Sharapovas and the Williamses, the very best women in the world, are always working on those areas to get better because if you stand still in tennis there’s only one direction you go and that’s backwards.
“You might be a great player in 2011 but if you stay the same your ranking goes backwards because all the time the game moves on and gets stronger and stronger every year.”
But Rusedski admitted, serving aside, Robson had impressed him with her performance against the world’s dominant force. “The score was two and two but she had a few chances out there. But you are talking about the best female player on the planet right now – a reinvigorated Serena Williams – there’s not too many people who can stay with her at the moment. But Laura stayed with her quite well.”
Robson’s next task is to maintain her surprising good form on the red dirt at Roland Garros – which starts on Sunday.
After that she comes to Birmingham for her second tilt at the AEGON Classic, 12 months, after her first ended in an ignominious second round defeat to Marina Erakovic when she described the Edgbaston courts as ‘worse than my back garden’.
She was not even inside the world’s top 100 then and although she went out in the first round of Wimbledon, a few days after exiting the Classic the Londoner won through three rounds of qualifying and reached the second round at Eastbourne.
That only confirmed in many people’s minds the belief that her weight of shot, left-handedness and love of the big occasion mark her out as a potential grass court champion.
That suspicion first began to grow when, as a 14-year-old, she won the Wimbledon Junior singles title in 2009.
Since then her form has been affected by fitness issues and growth spurts but Robson continues to develop into potentially the best British woman player since the 1970s.
A decent run in Birmingham would only cement that reputation and it would also galvanise interest in an event that is in the process of being transformed – for better or worse, from the sleepy, club-based warm-up event of yesteryear into an increasingly important and higher profile event on the WTA calendar.
The construction of a permanent centre-court, named after Jones, the former Wimbledon and French Open champion, new indoor centre and an elevation in status are all key parts of that process but nothing would propel the event into the national headlines like a first British winner.
Indeed the Classic has not been a happy hunting ground for home players for the last few years, with most packed off to Eastbourne by midweek. Only Melanie South has made any real impression with her run to the quarter-finals in 2008 which made her only the third Briton in the tournament’s 30-year history to have reached that far.
In 1992 Jo Durie reached the semi-finals and emulated Anne Hobbs and organisers would be delighted if Robson could equal that achievement – or go one better. But she will have to improve her serve first.
* The Aegon Classic takes place at the Edgbaston Priory Club from 9-16 June. Book your tickets now at www.aegonclassic.co.uk/tickets or by calling 0844 581 3015.