NOTTINGHAM — In keeping with the most reliable tradition of British grass-court tournaments, the Rothesay Open started — and ended — with a series of rain delays. But tournament director and former Top 30 player Laura Robson remains calm as she looks over the 15-acre grounds of the Nottingham Tennis Centre from the media balcony.

“We all become weather experts,” she said on the first Monday of the event, heaping praise on the work of the grounds staff. “But the less I look at the forecast, the better. I can’t control it and there’s no reason to stress.”

In any case, a few showers are nothing compared to the baptism of fire Robson experienced last year, her first in the role. A lightning strike hit the tennis center on finals day, resulting in a scramble to get the show back on the road in time for TV coverage.

“All the equipment went out because it wasn’t connected to a backup generator,” Robson said. “We had electronic scoreboards for Centre Court that weren’t working for the first three games of the men’s final.”

But that, in turn, was put into perspective by the events of a few days previously. While tennis tournaments can sometimes seem to exist in a bubble away from the real world, events can sometimes intrude in the most tragic ways. Midway through the 2023 tournament, the city of Nottingham had reeled from a street stabbing incident in which three people died.

“We wanted to make sure we were really respectful of the situation,” Robson said. A minute’s silence was observed ahead of play the following day, and again on Wednesday this year — the anniversary of the attacks.

“The tennis continued, but everyone that day was aware what was going on and we were getting updates from the police. We were worried that all the players would suddenly be nervous to be out and about in Nottingham, which in my experience has always been very, very safe. You get these horrific incidents in all parts of the world, unfortunately. But in the end everyone understood the situation.”

Dealing with a variety of unexpected challenges, Robson has found, is essentially what the tournament director role is about. That’s one of the reasons it suits her. After injuries forced her to play her last professional match in 2019, the former Wimbledon junior champion found herself at a loose end. She retained the work ethic and drive to excel from her playing career, but had no fixed idea about where to channel it.

“I want to be great at everything I do,” Robson had said a few months previously in Rome. “I just had to figure out what I wanted to do, so I did a bit of everything. And I really liked everything. What I like is to have this nice mix, where I’m not pigeonholed into one thing, and where I can be behind the scenes. Every single part of it fascinates me. The stuff you don’t necessarily know is going on when you’re just playing, then when you step outside it you realize the amount of hard work that it takes to put an event together.”

In Rome, Robson was working on behalf of Wimbledon’s international player relations team, gathering feedback that will influence ongoing construction work at the AELTC. “They are almost helping us create the building that will exist in a few years,” she said. Laser-focused on making tournaments the best possible experience they can be, she considers no ask to be unreasonable. (The number one priority for players these days is, inevitably, good wifi.)

“There’s not many things that aren’t valid,” she said. “If it helps them play well on court then you want to try to facilitate that. Some are definitely harder than others, but it’s a complaint or a request for a reason. And it’s not that there’s difficult people, it’s just a difficult world —  it’s a very individual journey and you’ve always got to look out for yourself. I understand, because when I was playing I’d have wanted the same things.”

A few weeks later, she was in Paris for her most public-facing role, as a commentator and presenter for Eurosport. Here, Robson’s dry wit and determination to speak her mind has made her a fan favorite. An on-court interview with Jelena Ostapenko at the 2023 Australian Open went viral after the Latvian doubled down on her infamous ongoing beef with electronic line-calling systems.

“I just watch most of the matches as a fan and say what I feel in the moment,” Robson said. “God knows what comes out of my mouth half the time. That day, it wasn’t planned. I wanted people to know that Ostapenko’s really fun and hilarious.”

Robson’s past life as a player herself is an asset. Because she knows the player cohort so well, and even goes back a long way with some, they’re more relaxed with her. This is also the case when she returns to Nottingham midway through Roland Garros for her third role in the space of a month. The top seed was Ons Jabeur, who praises the improvements she saw at the venue since she last played an ITF event here in 2017 while reminiscing about her first ever encounter with Robson.

“The first [junior] Grand Slam I played, she kicked my ass!” the Tunisian said. “So she really welcomed me on to the tour.”

Now, Robson is welcoming Jabeur to her own tournament. She laughs when told that the Tunisian hasn’t forgotten that match — a 6-0, 6-1 win in the first round of the 2009 junior US Open, for the record — and says Jabeur brings it up all the time.

“I’ve known her since we were 14 and wow, we’re both nearly 30 now,” Robson said. “That feels like a lifetime ago.”

Robson’s first visit to Nottingham was when she was 12 years old, and she spent much of her teenage years being shuttled back and forth from junior events held here. Now, she sees the tournament playing a role in making the city a British tennis hub, in the center of the country only a couple of hours by train from London. Ticket sales are already up from the previous year and are sold out for the week on Centre Court. Robson ascribes the tournament’s stronger presence to local community endeavors aimed at schools and families.

But when it comes down to it, Robson’s advice for any budding tournament director boils down, ironically, to the same advice she heard time and again as a junior player.

“Just have fun,” she said. “It really is the same. Honestly, it goes so quickly when you’re in it. You spend so much time building up to the event that especially in the first few days it can feel a lot. But honestly, it’s just so much fun to see it all come together and to see the players actually on the court.”


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