Wimbledon 2011: Robson impresses against Sharapova
Laura Robson makes her first mark in the senior draw at SW19 with brave display against the 2004 champion
A 14-year-old Laura Robson burst into British hearts three years ago when she won the Wimbledon junior title. Now she has made her first mark in the senior draw.
Back in 2008, the new Wimbledon Junior Champion, a 14-year-old Laura Robson, was asked about her ambitions.
What she dreamt of, she announced, was to play one of the Williams sisters or Maria Sharapova on one of the illustrious tournament’s show courts.
Robson’s progress since that early success has remained low-key while other British women have, by turn, begun to break through the top-100 barrier. She played the first rounds of Wimbledon in 2009 and 2010, her only Grand Slam main draw experience, but this year, at last, her chance to fulfil that dream arrived.
It came after she won her first ever Grand Slam match, from a set and a break down, to set up the biggest meeting of her career: a second-round encounter on No1 court with the No5 seed, Sharapova.
Still only 17, Robson these days has become an imposing figure who stands only an inch or so short of 6ft, and she was determined not to be out-shone by the even more statuesque Russian.
Robson battled through a nine-minute opening service game of six deuces and a clutch of break points to hold off a Sharapova who pummelled both her racket and her eardrums.
More impressively, Robson then pushed the Russian’s opening serve to 15-40 before a couple of over-long drives brought Sharapova level.
Robson fired another forehand winner and Sharapova’s notoriously unpredictable serve crumbled into two double faults: Robson had a break.
Five games and half an hour on, and Robson led 4-1 as her wide-swinging left-handed serve caused Sharapova huge problems.
However, the Russian’s big ground strokes began to find their range just as Robson, bending under the full force of the burgeoning Sharapova confidence, began to miss a few first serves: Sharapova broke back and levelled at 4-4.
Still the Briton resisted and, with Sharapova serving at 4-5, Robson produced two storming forehand winners to go 30-30. It was a small opening but Robson failed to capitalise and, after precisely one hour of play, the match entered a tie-break.
The No1 court crowd could barely suppress its excitement as the two women changed ends. Robson led 4-2 courtesy of a double fault from Sharapova, but that error seemed only to increase the Russian’s intensity.
Her cross-court forehand and backhand applied growing pressure and, when a Robson cross-court backhand missed the line by a millimetre, Sharapova was left to serve out the set, 7-4. But just one winner separated them: 15 to 14 in the Russian’s favour.
Sharapova, her fist tightly clenched in determination, immediately broke the Robson serve but the Briton would not be beaten so easily.
She tried a new tactic that is particularly effective against Sharapova -a woman who does not move forward with great ease -and a drop-shot in the third game converted the second of two break points.
Once again, though, the tide turned. Robson’s serve wide to the Sharapova backhand, which had won so many points in the early stages of the match, was now being read like a book by the Russian who produced two outright backhand winners down the line to break Robson again, this time to love.
On a roll, Sharapova found three aces, one on a second serve, to open a lead, 4-1. Robson was taken to deuce on her next serve, too, and a nervy double fault gave Sharapova a 5-1 lead.
Still Robson was not done, and she made two outrageous forehand winners to grab three more break points: It was 5-2. Another full-blooded service game finished off by a forehand winner took it to 5-3.
If Court One had had a roof, it may well have been blown off by the crowd’s fervour as Robson came within a whisker of breaking again, but Sharapova drew on her greatest asset -a refusal to be beaten -to finally repel the Robson attack, 6-3, in just 10 minutes short of two hours.
Sharapova afterwards offered some advice to Robson: “She’s got to keep learning and keep playing and keep working hard. That’s really what it comes down to, just grinding it out.”
It is interesting advice from a woman who was world No1 at 18 and had won three Grand Slams by the time she was 20 -her first, Wimbledon in 2004, at Laura Robson’s current age of 17.
Still only 24, Sharapova is a multi-millionaire, yet her precocious success was progressively hampered by a shoulder injury that forced her off the tour for nine months in 2008. She has since climbed back almost to the top, with her desire to win sharpened, it seems, by her enforced absence.
Perhaps it is this new perspective that prompted the advice to Robson, who has already felt the chill wind of injury in her short career: an injured hip at this year’s Hopman Cup took her out for two months and an abdominal strain accounted for March.
Sensible, then, that she and her team seem to be taking the long view of her transition from the junior to senior tour, one that adapts to her growth spurt and gives time to some distance learning study.
What seems in little doubt, however, is that Robson took a first big step in that transition by pushing the mighty Sharapova to a tie-break and beyond.