Less than two months after the Lawn Tennis Association was left wondering whether the Olympic tournament would feature any British women at all, Laura Robson was handed a place in the singles competition today to bring the home contingent up to the maximum entry of four.
Robson, who was admitted as the next highest-ranked player following the withdrawal through injury of Croatia’s Petra Martic, joins Heather Watson, Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha in the 64-strong women’s singles field as the tournament gets under way at the All England Club tomorrow morning.
On last month’s cut-off date for entries there were no British women with a high enough ranking to go straight into the competition, but Keothavong and Baltacha were subsequently given wild cards and Watson and Robson have benefited from withdrawals and from their own progress up the world rankings.
Watson, 20, who won the US Open junior title two years ago, became the first British woman for 10 years to reach the third round at Wimbledon this summer and has just climbed to a career-high No 67 in the world rankings, making her the highest-ranked home player. Robson, the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion, also broke into the world’s top 100 for the first time last month and recently reached the semi-finals of a Women’s Tennis Association clay-court event in Palermo, beating two top 50 players.
Robson and Watson will play their first-round matches on Monday, against the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova and Spain’s Silvia Soler Espinosa respectively, but the young Britons face Germany’s Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber in their opening doubles match tomorrow. Keothavong will contest the final singles match of the first day on Centre Court against Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 8, while Baltacha is scheduled to play the third match on Court 18 against Hungary’s Agnes Szavay, who does not even have a world ranking after playing only one match in the last year because of a back problem.
The honour of opening the tournament on Centre Court goes to the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych and Belgium’s Steve Darcis, who will be followed by the two singles champions from Wimbledon three weeks ago. Serena Williams has a tricky opener against Jelena Jankovic, while Roger Federer will not be able to afford the same slow start against Alejandro Falla as he made against the Colombian in the first round at Wimbledon two years ago. If he loses the first two sets this time the world No 1 will be out of the tournament as all the matches are played over the best of three sets.
Andy Murray, the only Briton in the men’s singles, faces Stanislas Wawrinka in his opening match on Sunday. Tomorrow the world No 4 teams up with his brother, Jamie, in a doubles match against the Austrians Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya in the final encounter of the afternoon on Court Two. Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, Britain’s first-choice Davis Cup pair, have an even tougher opening task on Court 14 against the Frenchmen Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau.
While the British team decided that none of the home contingent should go to tonight’s opening ceremony because of their commitments on court today, many players from other countries are expected to attend. They included Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska, who were all among those lined up for national flag-carrying duties.
Baltacha, however, has no complaints. “We're all playing tomorrow so that's fine,” she said. “We're here to compete. It would have been really nice to go, but we're here for a reason and that has to come first. If we were to go we wouldn't be back until late and that's not the best preparation. It is a shame but we can watch it on TV. That's what I'll be doing with my mum.”
Kim Clijsters, who will retire after the US Open, will be competing in the Olympics for the first time when she meets Italy’s Roberta Vinci in tomorrow’s first match on Court Two. Speaking at a press conference at Wimbledon alongside her fellow Belgian players, Clijsters said: “You kind of feel like you're going on a school trip. We took the train and we were all dressed the same and had our backpacks on. It was fun and it's exciting after being on tour for 15 years to have a new experience."