James Lawton: It is too early to anoint Laura Robson the new queen of Centre Court
There are good reasons to believe in the 19-year-old
The rise of Laura Robson moved up another notch when she survived one of the most severe cases of Centre Court ordeal by adulation since Tim Henman called it a day.
There was also a swift bonus hard on her victory over Columbia’s Mariana Duque-Marino. It came with the unexpected fall of the seventh seeded – and world ranked – German Angelique Kerber, who was suggesting formidable opposition next week if Robson happened to fight her way through to the fourth round.
Yet if the 19-year-old Robson is now firmly established as the latest object of Wimbledon worship in all its cloying frenzy, if she has the strength and self-belief that has already ambushed some of the big names of the women’s game, you were still bound to ask a hard question after her joyously received triumph over an opponent who, quite frankly, looked distinctly flattered by her world ranking of 117th.
The 23-year-old from Bogota fired shots of dismaying inconsistency before Robson – a 6-4, 6-1 winner in one hour, 13 minutes – was required to bow to a standing ovation.
Yes, Robson came through the crisis of a broken serve in the third game of the first set and eventually she produced some of the natural, thumping power which brought her such major scalps as Kim Clijsters and Li Na at the US Open – and has also claimed 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
Yet while Robson talked happily of picking up 20,000 new Twitter followers as a result of a message sent by One Direction’s Harry Styles, there was certainly a sense of impending questions about the weight of pressure being applied at her place of work.
There were huge groans when Robson double faulted and surrendered her serve, and that extreme was matched by the jubilation which came when she found her way home.
After reporting that her mother was still absent in Greece but had sent her a message of congratulations, Robson insisted that she did not see too many hazards in the rising level of attention paid to everything she does and says, even after her Twitter mistake in failing to correctly identify fans of her admiring pop group was pointed out.
“I think I’m handling it [the crowd pressure] pretty well so far. I’ve had a fair few matches in big stadiums now where I’ve handled the crowd support perfectly fine. You know, I love when people get involved. Sometimes they do like a massive groan if I hit a double fault, but I’m doing it as well. So, yeah, we’re just living it together.”
In fact the synchronisation was less than perfect when Robson quickly fell out of the rhythm of her serve. Yes, she agreed, there were problems with her timing but it was a routine problem and nothing do with nerves. “You know, I thought I handled it well today. I managed to break her at the end of the first set, which was big. And yeah, I just kept it together.”
There is certainly no lack of commitment or force. Robson may not be extravagantly gifted in terms of the range and the spontaneity of her game but the more that is seen of her at the higher levels the less of a mystery it is that she is among the elite of Junior Wimbledon winners, a player who has been earmarked for a significant career by no less than Serena Williams.
The winner of 16 Grand Slams was asked about Robson’s chances of making the world’s top 10. Williams insisted they go higher than that, a theory which plainly filled Britain’s No 1, and the 34th ranked player in the world, with much pleasure – even it brought another turn of pressure.
“It’s very nice of her,” said Robson. “She’s obviously the best player of all time. Yeah, it means quite a lot. But I do understand that what I have to do is focus on the next match rather than how soon I might be in the top five or the top 10.
“I think it just takes a lot longer to get to the top now. You have to have a lot of confidence. You know that for a long time you have to keep your expectations low because you’re going to have a lot of tough matches.”
Inevitably, we are back with the screams and the groans of the Centre Court – and the fact that the prime minister found time to send her a congratulatory tweet after the first-round victory over the 10th seed, Maria Kirilenko.
Again, Robson is defiant of claims that there is a danger that she could be engulfed. “When I’m on court, I’m not worried about who’s tweeting me. I’m really focused on the game plan that I have. After a match, I’ll go through it all. But the truth is that it doesn’t bother me at all.”
She is much more concerned, she says once again, with the burden of performance than anyone’s expectations but her own. It is as heavy as ever today when New Zealand-based Marina Erakovic is expected to produce a much more severe challenge than that delivered yesterday.
“I’ve lost to her on grass before,” said Robson. “She’s got a big game, a huge serve, a good slice as well, which is pretty much a perfect game for grass. Yeah, I know it’s going to be a tough one. Her net game is on the ball. Yeah, we’ll see how it goes.”
There is, though, another inescapable reality to be faced once again today. It is that such nuances of an opponent’s style, and the peculiar pressures she will bring to the court, are hardly likely to be high in the attention of an adoring crowd.
There are good reasons to believe in Laura Robson. She has power, which has already claimed a high quality of victim. She is a natural fighter who hits the ball extremely hard. The trouble, though, is that she has already been anointed. It is something that happens in this place too frequently, too quickly, and, with depressing regularity, too hazardously.
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