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Beating Li, playing well in China have boosted Brit's confidence
Laura Robson says her Chinese experiences contributed greatly to her breakthrough 2012 season.
In a year when Andy Murray dominated tennis headlines in Britain with his Olympic gold medal and US Open title, the teenager from London also garnered some column space as her world ranking rocketed from No 113 to 53 while also claiming some big-name scalps at Grand Slams and teaming with Murray to win mixed doubles silver at the Games.
The 18-year-old said her confidence received a huge boost when she stunned China's No 1 player, Li Na, to reach the fourth round of the US Open and then made her first WTA final in Guangzhou.
"I am really glad to be back playing in China because I did pretty well at my last two tournaments here (in Guangzhou and Beijing)," Robson said during the Shenzhen Gemdale Open.
"I don't know why, but I have always been able to play well in China. Maybe the courts suit me, I guess."
Hoping to get the new season off to a flying start, Robson chose to return to her happy hunting ground, but suffered an early exit in Shenzhen, being knocked out by Romania's Monica Niculescu, 6-2, 6-3, in the second round.
Still, she will leave the southern coastal city in an upbeat mood.
"I don't think I played badly. I was just a little impatient and my returns were not working well. Anyway, this week was good preparation for Melbourne (the Australian Open) and I will be back in Beijing after the US Open."
Boasting all-round skills and a positive mindset, the 2008 Wimbledon girls' champion has earned praise from greats like John McEnroe, who has tipped her as a future top-10 player.
However, it was her solid US Open run, in which she upset two major winners, Kim Clijsters and Li, in a row that convinced her of her potential to win a Grand Slam title.
"I found it quite easy to play those matches because I had nothing to lose. They were higher ranked than me and both had won Slams. I just played the best l could and went for all my shots."
Robson said the three-set victory over Li in New York was her "match of the year" in 2012.
"I felt she was playing really well at that time after winning in Cincinnati. It was a tough one the whole way through, so I was really happy that I won.
"Still, she's been playing well since then. I am sure she had a tough offseason working with Justine Henin's old coach and she's going to do well this week in Shenzhen."
Pretty and witty, Robson, who loves baking, has avoided the "brat" tag put on many young stars in the game thanks to her mature approach.
"I started to understand that I have to be more grown up about everything I do. It's quite hard as an 18-year-old to think that ‘this is definitely my career', so I have to do as much as I can to make it last, because it's a short career in tennis," she said.
To get ready for the physicality of the women's circuit, Robson has been working with Murray's fitness coach, Jez Green, to improve her speed and agility.
"Everything is a bit more competitive on the pro Tour. Juniors is more about fun ... the pros is definitely more serious and there's more traveling as well," said the left-hander.
With Virginia Wade the last female Briton to win a Grand Slam (Wimbledon in 1977), Robson knows she has to handle some great expectations, but is not placing any pressure on herself.
"I haven't set any specific ranking goals this season. I'd just like to win my first WTA title and be seeded for a Grand Slam."
Robson will play in Hobart next week to tune up for the Australian Open, which swings off on Jan 14.