How Laura Robson found the guts to go for glory
Briton has always had talent but win over Kvitova shows she has gained a hard edge
Laura Robson called it "an ugly match" but in years to come she will surely view it as a beautiful memory. The 18-year-old Briton's 2-6, 6-3, 11-9 victory here yesterday over Petra Kvitova in the second round of the Australian Open was testament as much to her character as to her ball-striking ability.
If Robson's talent for belting huge groundstrokes and thunderous serves has never been in doubt, there have been questions in the past about her willingness to tough it out when the going gets difficult. Not any more. In the last year the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion, under the careful guidance of her Croatian coach, Zeljko Krajan, has made major progress in both her fitness and her readiness to make her opponents fight for every point.
In Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, Robson was facing a mirror image. Like the Briton, the Czech makes up for any lack of athleticism with her bold hitting. By Robson's admission, it did not make for the most elegant of matches. Rallies were short and sharp and all too often settled by mistakes.
As a spectacle, nevertheless, it was compelling and thousands of spectators stayed until well after midnight to watch the conclusion. Robson was born in Melbourne and, although she lived here for less than two years, she is popular with the crowds.
Robson said she had been "super-excited" to play in a night session on the main show court, the Rod Laver Arena, Roger Federer having started the evening programme with a victory over Nikolay Davydenko. "I always wanted to play in a night match," she said. "Fed wasn't taking that long this evening so it wasn't too bad. I had an afternoon nap, so it was all good."
With both players striking the ball with great power, it was a match high on winners (25 to Robson, 42 to Kvitova) and unforced errors (41 by Robson, 51 by Kvitova). The hit-or-miss formula also applied to their serves: Robson hit eight aces and 12 double-faults, while Kvitova hit 18 of each.
Kvitova said afterwards that she could not remember having served so poorly, but it was Robson who opened the match with two successive double-faults, dropping her serve to love. Two more breaks helped Kvitova to take the first set with something to spare, but in the second it was Robson who took control, breaking twice in a row to gain a decisive 5-1 lead.
The momentum had appeared to shift in Robson's favour, but Kvitova came out shooting from the hip in the decider. The Czech led 3-0 and 4-2 and was within two points of victory when Robson served at 4-5, but the Briton fought back.
At 6-5, Robson served for the match, only to play a loose game and let her opponent off. By this stage, Robson's ball toss was starting to go awry, but it was Kvitova who regularly came under pressure on her serve.
Although the Czech said the heat had not been a factor, she has often struggled in difficult playing conditions. By the end of the third set she was sweating profusely – the temperature was still 32C at midnight – and looking increasingly strained.
Robson, in contrast, maintained her composure from start to finish. At 9-9 she broke serve again, cracking a fine return winner down the line. When she served for victory this time, there were no mistakes. "I started off very up and down," Robson said afterwards. "You know it's going to be a pretty ugly match when you start off with two double-faults. I thought: 'I've really got to dig in here.'
"You can't win a set when you're playing five unforced errors compared to every winner. At the start of the second set I knew that I just had to play with more consistency and with more percentage. That's what I did.
"She's someone who's never going to give you a lot of rhythm because she takes the ball so early. I just had to try to get as many balls back as I could, and I was pretty disappointed with myself in how I tried to serve out at 6-5 in the third. I just gave her a bit too much time on the ball."
Robson, who had never finished a match so late, admitted she was "a bit tired" and "looking forward to going back to my apartment and sleeping".
Asked whether she had always had such an impressive fighting spirit, Robson said: "I'd like to think so. Definitely when I played my brother in Monopoly all hell broke loose. But, yes, I think some matches you just lose the belief a little bit, whereas this one I felt like I could always win."
Robson round-up: Laura's statistics
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8 Aces served by Robson yesterday – against Kvitova's 18.
12 Double-faults by Robson yesterday – against Kvitova's total of 18.
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