Laura Robson’s got the Andy Murray factor
In years to come it will not matter that Laura Robson and Andy Murray lost to Spain in the final of the Hopman Cup and that the 15-year-old did not manage to get her hands on the diamond-encrusted tennis ball that she had her eyes on throughout the tournament.
If she fulfils her potential, she will look back on it as a stepping stone towards tennis success. Another achievement ticked off on the career checklist - first top-30 player beaten. In her win over the experienced Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, ranked 377 places above her on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, she demonstrated qualities - both learned and instinctive - which could take her to the top.
In fact, it was reminiscent of her teammate’s first victory over a top 30 player. Murray comfortably strolled past Taylor Dent 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of the Stella Artois Championships at Queen’s Club and it proved to be a turning point.
The 18-year-old Murray was ranked 357 in the world, 327 places behind his opponent. He followed this significant victory with a run to the third round at Wimbledon in which he demolished tour veteran George Bastl, ousted world number 13 Radek Stepanek in straight sets and ultimately met his match in former finalist David Nalbandian in a five-set battle on Centre Court. He ended the year ranked 64.
This acceleration through the rankings will not be possible for Robson, who can only play a limited number of professional WTA tour and ITF tournaments this season due to her age. She is 16 in two weeks and from then until the day before her 17th birthday will be allowed to play in 13 ranking events and accept just four wild cards.
It is perhaps frustrating for the Australian-born Brit, who found herself competing well with women ranked much higher than herself in Perth - world number 50 Yaroslava Shvedova, 22-ranked Sabine Lisicki and world number five Elena Dementieva. She was also unafraid to take on the men and even out-rally them in the doubles.
As tempting as it is to compare the rise and rise of Robson with Murray’s speedy ascent to the top of the game, it is worth remembering that the Hopman Cup is, essentially, an exhibition tournament, with no ranking points up for grabs. While nothing should be taken away from Robson’s performance, it is perhaps not truly comparable with Murray’s first breakthrough on the ATP tour.
What is comparable though, is her presence on court. The match-winning elements are there: big lefty serve, wonderfully fluid shot-making, fantastic timing and striking of the ball, great variety - including confident net play - and an understanding of the dimensions of the tennis court, where to hit the ball and when.
When Murray first made a name for himself his raw talent was undeniable. Such is true of Robson. Throughout the week in Perth she also demonstrated great mental strength, which was similarly characteristic of the young Murray.
What stood out in particular was the ability to forget missed opportunities and focus on the present. At 6-2 up in the second set tiebreak against Martinez Sanchez, the nerves took hold and she squandered four match points with tentative play. Unfazed, she collected herself and quickly reeled off the next two, sealing the win with a bold, backhand cross-court winner.
She showed similar resolve in the doubles, which was vital in the Brit pair’s first win against Kazakhstan, a victory which spurred them on to a week of upsets.
These efforts have been enough to earn her a wildcard into the Australian Open qualifying, starting on January 14th, where there is every chance she will be able to add a few more ticks to the career checklist.