A little over four years ago I watched Laura Robson’s final three victories that she needed before lifting the Wimbledon Junior title. She was fourteen; she was the youngest in the draw. She impressed all with a big game – a strong leftie serve, and a powerful forehand that she’d often run around – much like a certain Steffi Graf. I could never hit my own backhand with any venom, and this trait was one I liked about Steffi, factor in that I’m left-handed and English – I liked Laura immediately.
There was quite a lot of hype around her; people talking big, people saying we should be patient, people saying she’d fail like all other Brits. I was full-on mad. I figured she had a chance of being the best British female for some time. I did acknowledge that it would take time. So I watched, and I waited. I loved it when she played Hopman Cup with Andy Murray.
Her next big (huge) moment was the Olympic Silver Medal, in mixed doubles, with Andy Murray. I hoped that their time together in the Hopman Cup would help them, as the rapport between double-players in tennis is very important. It certainly can’t have hurt as they defied the odds together round after round, beating more experienced players and losing out in the final by the smallest of margins. Laura did make a few mistakes at crucial times, and appeared upset with herself – understandable as in any team game you feel you’ve let others down and not just yourself as in singles.
In round one of the US Open 2012, Laura Robson had the unusual task of playing someone younger than she was. She won, predictably enough, against the lower ranked player – after all “Robbo” is the youngest player in the WTA top 100. Round two she faced Kim Clijsters. Kim Clijsters who was awesome in round one thumping an impressively aggressive young American named Duval (remember her name).
Kim, you should know, has been playing well. She has beaten plenty of good players this year. However, two recent losses were what I would call unexpected: two close sets against Yanina Wickmayer, and a 6-1 6-1 thrashing by Angelique Kerber. Laura clearly has no chance, I surmised. I thought she could, and would, give Kim a scare but her game (usually) features too many unforced errors for her to beat someone as seasoned and high class as Kim. Unless Kim plays badly, I hoped. Seldom am I as happy to be wrong!
In each set, Laura had to fight back from a break down. In each set Kim’s retrieval skills were jaw-dropping. In each set Laura won the majority of games that went to deuce … a statistic that Sam Smith says she considers to be vital; and she is a very astute commentator. Laura saved 3 sets points late in the second set. One of these was caused by a smash. Robbo had already won the point (against mortals) three times; Kim though, had other ideas and hit up an OK defensive lob when well out of court. Laura hopelessly miss-timed it and the ball crashed into the bottom of the net – to much hilarity on Twitter. To Laura’s immense credit, she dipped her head briefly but showed no other signs of the discontent she must have felt. She won the next three points and forced the tie-break. That was a moment of maturity beyond her years; it’s not only winning shots that tell you how good a player is – to be able to cope with disappointment is essential.
So Laura won the second set tie-break too, and now faces Li Na (in great form) in the 3rd round. Can she win that? Well, yes – providing she can play to that level again. One of the hardest things for young players is to be consistent at the highest level; one great scalp is not enough. I know she could win, but no-one yet knows if she will.
A crazy stat that will never change: Laura vs Kim — Head to Head.
“Laura Robson is in full control … of my breathing.”