US Open 2013: Laura Robson & Dan Evans open day one with a bang

US Open 2013: British duo Laura Robson and Dan Evans both book their places in the second round at Flushing Meadows in New York

dan evans
Dan Evans is currently ranked 179th in the world Photo: Marianne Bevis

In an unfortunate twist of the scheduling, two of the four Britons in the main draws of this year’s US Open took to court at the same time on the opening day of the last Grand Slam of the year.

Both Laura Robson and Daniel Evans were notching up career firsts. Robson, the top-ranked British woman at just 19, is seeded for the first time in a Major at No30, while Evans, age 23, was playing in the US Open main draw for the first time in his career. However, both faced serious challenges.

Robson was up against Lourdes Dominguez Lino, a woman 13 years older, ranked 52 and never higher than 40 in her long career. The Spaniard had reached the third round at Flushing once before, but her strength has always been clay. However, she had beaten Robson in their only two previous meetings—one on hard courts last year and one on clay this year.

But Robson faced another problem. She has played just two matches since her career-best run at Wimbledon after picking up a wrist injury that forced her to withdraw from Toronto.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live that she expected to be fine, but also revealed that she had only been playing practice points for a few days: “I’ve been limited but I’ve had some good practice days for the past week and feel pretty good.

“I haven’t been able to play since San Diego and my wrist is still taped for practice, but we’ve done all the rehab humanly possible in the last couple of weeks to be here, so I’m looking forward to it.”

The US Open is an important tournament for her in more ways than one. It was here, 12 months ago, that she made her Grand Slam breakthrough with wins over highly significant opposition: Kim Clijsters and Na Li. She fell to a third Grand Slam champion, Sam Stosur, in the fourth round.

Robson went on to reach the third round at the Australian Open, beat her first top-five player in Agnieszka Radwanska in Madrid, and then reached the fourth round at Wimbledon.

There was no question Robson was favourite to win on the courts that she so enjoys, as long as her wrist was up to the task. Her big left-handed game thrives on the hard and relatively fast surfaces in New York, though when she began, it was a cooler, overcast day than usual in this baking corner of Flushing Meadows.

laura robson

Laura Robson in action at Flushing Meadows on Monday (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

So in every sense, it took Robson time to warm up. She and Dominguez Lino exchanged several breaks of serve, made numerous double faults and few winners through a 53-minute opening set. It looked as though Robson was struggling to find her length and timing, though she was already showing her keenness to attack, get to the net, mix up her game—all areas she has worked on since taking on Miles Maclagan as coach in early summer.

As the two women edged towards what looked like a tie-break, Robson—who enjoyed the vast support on the new No17 show court—stepped up the pressure. Fighting off two break points, she held serve to lead 6-5 and hammered forehand after forehand to the Spaniard’s backhand corner.

Dominguez Lino’s defensive skills were superb, slicing, lobbing and dropping to keep Robson on her toes, but the Briton’s improved movement and slice skills, combined with that forehand, were too much. And now with the sun out, heating up the court nicely, Robson broke to take the set 7-5.

With that, the brakes came off, her confidence soared, and she powered through the second set, spraying winners past the hapless Spaniard. Robson made only one double fault, compared with seven in the first set and, more important still, reduced her error count from 23 to seven. And by the end of the 6-0 whitewash to Robson, her winner count was up to 33.

The signs, then, are good. She made far fewer errors on her backhand—the wing affected by her sore wrist—than on her forehand, and attacking game is breaking up her opponent’s rhythm as well as helping her own defence. She was certainly calmly satisfied with her performance: “I thought going into the match I’d be a little bit rusty, so I’m really happy to get the win today, especially playing as well as I did in the end…I really wanted to win today. I have lost to her twice before.

“The last time I played her I had match point, so I knew going into it that she was going to be confident because she’s beaten me before. I just had to stay focused the whole time and not go for too much in the rallies.”

Dominguez Lino is a crafty, smart player whose terrific defence is underpinned by low, skimming slice, so this was a valuable test ahead of tougher opponents. Robson could face the same woman in the third round as last year, Li, who came through her opener in just 64 minutes.

Robson first plays Caroline Garcia—another 19-year-old climbing the rankings and with a Round 2 finish at Wimbledon this year. If she comes through that, she should be confident against Li after her win last year—and this time, it may be lined up for a still bigger show court than No17.

While Robson was overcoming her own obstacles, Evans was facing the intimidating prospect of fellow 23-year-old and No11 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Evans had spent much of the year on the Futures circuit before a reaching the third round at Queen’s. He did not make it through qualifying at Wimbledon but since taking to the Challenger circuit on the North American hard courts, he had looked like player reborn.

He reached two finals and then came through qualifying in New York, but with just five matches played, three won, on the main tour, his chances still looked meagre, and particularly when he went down an early break in the first set.

Yet he broke back, and then broke again to take the opener, 6-4. And he was not done. In a packed Court 13, where the Japanese fans had gathered to cheer on one of their most famous athletes, the two men exchanged breaks at the start, just as they had in the first, but then Evans again levelled at 4-4 and broke to take another 6-4 set.

By now, the British fans were packing every available screen—there was no space on Court 13. And sure enough, Evans broke immediately to lead 3-0 and, in under two hours of play, broke again to take the set and match, 6-2.

Evans revealed ahead of the Open that he had considered giving up the sport last year after family differences. He also admitted to injecting more discipline into his own regime. Andy Murray had noticed the difference when he was asked about having another British man in the main draw.

“It’s quite clear. He’s consistently playing at a high level; whereas before he was probably doing it for a few weeks a year. He’s strung it together now for a couple of months. If he can maintain that form for eight, nine months of the year, then he will get himself up and around the top 100 for sure.”

Evans next faces the No52 ranked or the No75 ranked Albert Ramos, and the next seed in his segment is Tommy Robredo. And over the horizon? Roger Federer in the fourth round. It’s a highly unlikely scenario, but then so was Evans taking out one of the rising stars in men’s tennis.

Defending champion Andy Murray expects to play his opening match on Wednesday, with Heather Watson scheduled for Tuesday.

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