US Open 2011: Laura Robson is 4th British woman to qualify
Laura Robson reaches main draw in New York after a 6-4 6-4 win over Hong Kong's Ling Zhang in qualifier
Laura Robson has fought through three qualifier rounds to take a place in this year’s US Open main draw for the first time.
She was very nearly joined there by British No5, Naomi Broady, who beat the No22 seed, Kai-Chen Chang””ranked 100 places higher than the Briton’s 230″”only to fall in the final round.
Both Robson and Broady had their second-round qualifier matches postponed from Thursday by rain, and so found themselves in the unenviable position of playing two matches on one day.
It was a hot and humid Friday that lulled Flushing Meadows into an enjoy-it-while-we-can slow-motion of a day, and no-one was in a hurry to get anywhere except the players. But both British women were delayed for longer than they may have wished in their first match of the day by a pair of dogged opponents.
Broady looked to be in trouble when Chang broke in the fifth game of the opening set, but she fought back to take it, 6-4. She lost a close second set, 7-5, but closed out a gutsy win, 6-3.
The star of the 21-year-old’s performance was a shot that must be unique in the women’s game: a single-handed backhand that fires flat and deep through the court.
It was not enough of a weapon, however, to save her from defeat by seventh seed Stephanie Foretz Gacon. Having pulled the French woman back to level terms in a second set tiebreak, she lost out on a first ever US Open main draw place, 3-6, in the third.
It was better news for 17-year-old Robson, however. Her first Friday match was against a powerful new American talent, the 15-year-old Taylor Townsend, and it was a full house to enjoy three sets of tense and often outstanding tennis between the two big-hitting left-handers.
As the score edged to a final-set tiebreaker, the crowd””which included Richard Williams, father of the famous sisters””grew vociferous for both women, but it was Robson, with some aggressive serving and overheads, who stormed the set, 7 points to 0.
She carried that impetus into an altogether easier win, 6-4 6-3, over Ling Zhang of Hong Kong, making only two unforced errors.
It’s a little over three years since a 14-year-old Robson burst into British hearts when she won the Wimbledon junior title, and she has played the first round of Wimbledon’s main draw each year since.
Despite missing much of the early part of 2011 with hip and abdominal injuries, she scored her first Wimbledon match win this year, from a set and a break down, to set up the biggest meeting of her career: a second-round encounter with Maria Sharapova.
Robson, who has grown into an imposing figure only an inch or so short of 6ft, gave an impressive account of herself, too, pushing the former champion to a first-set tiebreak.
Now, Robson’s steady transition from the junior to the senior tour and inside the top 200, has taken another step: the main draw of the US Open. Her first opponent is the not insignificant Japanese player, Ayumi Morita, currently ranked 46 and rising, but it is certainly a winnable chance for Robson.
And if she progresses, her first seeded opponent will be rather less formidable than the one she faced at Wimbledon. Anabel Medina Garrigues is seeded 30.
Even more exciting for Robson is that she joins three other British women in the first round. Heather Watson, ranked 104, Anne Keothavong, ranked 100, and Elena Baltacha, ranked 61, all qualified by right to this year’s championships.
Baltacha has reached the second round in the last four consecutive Grand Slams, including New York 12 months ago.
This year, she plays wild card Jamie Hampton in her opener and, if rankings are anything to go by, the No130 American woman should not pose too big an obstacle to another second round for the top British woman. Thereafter, things become trickier with Svetlana Kuznetsova her likely opponent.
Keothavong faces the No82-ranked South African, Chanelle Scheepers, who reached the third round in Australia this year. Keothavong, though, has reached the third round in New York before, in 2008: It could be a close contest.
Watson, the exuberant 19-year-old who broke the top 100 for the first time this year, will have a taste of Robson’s Wimbledon, for she has drawn one of the favourites for the US title, Sharapova, in the first round.
The Russian woman won the US title in 2006″”at Watson’s age””and has enjoyed a strong return to form during 2011. But the young British woman won the junior US title two years ago, trains in the States and loves the hard courts here. And one thing she doesn’t lack, however imposing the opponent, is self-belief.
There is, very neatly, a British woman in each quarter of the draw, and that makes it possible””albeit highly improbable””that the four could meet in the semi-finals.
But like they say, you’ve got to be in it to win it: and all four have now done that.