LONDON — Robin Montgomery remembers that the first time she tried to play tennis on grass, she thought it was a joke. It was 2019, and she was preparing for junior Wimbledon alongside ATP star and good friend Frances Tiafoe at the Australian embassy in Washington, D.C.

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“Whenever I made an error or the ball would skid, it was like … we’re literally playing on someone’s lawn right now,” the 19-year-old qualifier said after defeating Olivia Gadecki 6-4, 6-4 in the first round this year. Now, she’s comfortable enough with grass that she can casually expect the surface to “do its job” whenever she makes her formidable first serve. That’s an approach which has netted her 44 aces in four wins so far. But the levity is still important.

“It helps keep the vibe light, when I look at the outside picture,” she said. “We’re on someone’s lawn!”

The 2021 US Open junior champion has been enjoying a long-anticipated surge in recent months. In May, she reached the third round of Madrid, and took Aryna Sabalenka to a tight third set. Three weeks ago, she reached her first Hologic WTA Tour quarterfinal on the grass of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and is now ranked No.161. The win over Gadecki was her first in a Grand Slam main draw, and sets up a second-round date with two-time Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur.

“Just another match for me,” Montgomery said. “I have multiple experiences playing top players now. I’ve played Coco [Gauff]I’ve played Sabalenka, I’ve practised with Madison [Keys]. I was more nervous in qualifying.”

Montgomery is now free of the wrist and hip injuries that halted her progress in 2022 and 2023, and has been working with a psychologist ever since last year’s US Open. After her remarkable 7-6(0), 6-7(4), 7-6[4] second-round qualifying win over Kamilla Rakhimova, in which neither player dropped serve, Montgomery said that she had learned mental techniques to develop a “goldfish mind” and to embrace such tight battles.

Also remarkable is that Montgomery’s improvement has all occurred without a permanent coach. She has been accompanied on her European trip this year by, variously, her mother, her aunt, childhood coach Taka Bertrand and USTA’s head of women’s tennis Kathy Rinaldi. Montgomery split from her long-term coach Eric Nunez earlier this year, and her mother Gabrielle has been encouraging her to be more proactive in finding a new one.

“My mom keeps saying, ‘Write down a list of what you want in a coach,'” Montgomery said. “I don’t know where to start! But I want a coach who can relate to me in many ways. Similar personality but probably a bit more intense, a bit more positive than me. I’m a person who does better once I see the person and how they work.

“Since my split I have no complaints about how I’m doing, so maybe this way can last a bit longer. But at the same time I would prefer to have a permanent person to help me develop my game. There’s a lot of things I still need to get better at. I’m going to make the list, mom!”

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Like most teenagers, Montgomery may be dragging her feet on a maternal request. But she also has a message for Gabrielle, a single mother whose original plans to be at Wimbledon this year fell through due to her commitments with her work in early childhood education.

“I would not be where I am without my mom, and I do need to tell her that more,” Montgomery said. “She’s the one who put me into tennis from the start, who found College Park when I was younger, and she’s sacrificed a number of things for me to be where I am. She’s my hero. She won’t say she’s down [about missing Wimbledon]but I can tell on some calls that she definitely wishes she was here.”

Gabrielle Montgomery may have missed out on the SW19 experience this year — but with her talented daughter blossoming, she’ll have plenty of opportunity in the future.

Montgomery on …

Her Jamaican heritage: “My dad is Jamaican. He’s not in the picture and never has been, but it’s still important to me. I think it’s cool being mixed, and I like to represent Jamaica — even if they don’t know me! My mom has a lot of Jamaican friends; one of them has been around since I was 2 years old and he’s like my second father. It’s funny, he was telling my mum, ‘You need to bring more of the Jamaican out of her, she needs to fight!’ I am fighting.”

The prize-winning essay she wrote when she was 13, “Let The Girls Play!”: “I forgot about that essay! I’m gonna stick by my words, though. I think it’s great seeing women’s sports come more into the eye of the public, like the WNBA getting more views than the men. It shows little girls that anything is possible and we’re creating more doors for them to go through. And hopefully they’ll create more doors for the next generation. My grandma helped me write that essay, so props to her. She really showed me and told me what a big dream can do.”

Missing the Australian Open this year: “I had a foot injury, so I played [WTA 125 events in South America] into December last year. My coach at the time and I decided I should do a later pre-season and start off on the ITF circuit. The whole goal was to win the titles and get my ranking up. It didn’t go as planned. Looking back on it, I don’t think I’d make the same choice. A lot of people told me, if you have the ranking to get into a Slam, you go.”

Favorite music at the moment: “I’m a big Future fan, so his album with Metro Boomin, We Don’t Trust You.”

Over two days, Montgomery upsets Linette in ‘s-Hertogenbosch first round


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