Laura Robson has been overshadowed by the achievements of Heather Watson, her fellow British teenager, for most of this year but last night it was the turn of the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion to enjoy her moment in the sun. A chilly day which had got off to a late start because of rain ended with the crowd on Court 16 warmed by the broadest of smiles as the 17-year-old celebrated her first victory in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament.
After Watson had been reduced to tears following her 6-2, 4-6, 4-6 defeat to France's Mathilde Johansson, the 19-year-old's chances having been scuppered by an elbow injury, Robson enjoyed the most memorable win of her senior career when she beat Germany's Angelique Kerber 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.
Robson joined her fellow Britons, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, in the second round – in which Keothavong was beaten 6-2, 6-1 last night by the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova – and this afternoon faces Maria Sharapova, who won Wimbledon when she was Robson's age seven years ago.
"I'm going to play on Court One against Sharapova so that's pretty special," Robson said. "You have to be confident going into these matches because otherwise what's the point? I'm really happy with today, but tomorrow's really important, so I'll have to refocus and get a gameplan."
Twenty months younger than Watson, who broke into the world's top 100 earlier this year, Robson has been through a difficult period. She sacked her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, last week and has been hampered by injuries, partly the result of a growth spurt. Having reached a career-high No 206 in the world rankings last year, she has since slipped to No 254, though last night's win could take her into the top 200 for the first time.
Now 5ft 11in, Robson has also added muscle to her frame. Her movement has been a weakness and is still likely to be the area she has to concentrate on, though she appeared to change direction with more fluency than she has in the past.
Robson's major weapons remain her big leftie serve and pounding ground strokes. She put 71 per cent of her first serves in court and her forehand looked in excellent shape as she belted 53 winners past Kerber, the world No 77. Robson, who had lost to seeded players in the opening round of her first two Wimbledon appearances, recovered well after losing the first set and levelled the match after playing a splendid tie-break, which she won 7-4. She took charge of the third set, winning the first four games, but Kerber took a medical time-out at 4-1 down to have treatment on her left arm, after which she brought the score back to 4-3. Robson kept her nerve however, broke to lead 5-3 with a splendid forehand cross-court winner and then served out for the match.
After the match Robson could barely keep a smile off her face. "In the second set I tried to pump myself up a bit and hang in there," she said. "I felt I played really well on the big points and that's what made the difference."
Watson had appeared in control of her match until she served at 2-3 and 0-40 in the second set. The 19-year-old from Guernsey doubled up in pain, clutching her right elbow, as Johansson hit a rasping forehand return winner. Watson received treatment from a trainer, but despite the strapping on her elbow was clearly struggling with her serve.
Nevertheless, she did not go down without a fight. After losing the second set Watson recovered from 4-2 down in the decider to level at 4-4. When Johansson served at 15-30 in the next game it seemed the momentum might have swung decisively in Watson's favour, but the Frenchwoman held on. Watson, gritting her teeth, saved four match points, but on the fifth she put a forehand into the net.
Watson was in tears afterwards as she bemoaned her luck in suffering the injury when on the brink of the biggest win of her career. "I've never felt anything like this before," she said. "I really wanted to win and I thought I had the match. I'm just asking myself now: 'Why me? Why couldn't it have happened in another tournament? Why this one?' This was the hardest defeat of my professional career because it was a great opportunity for me."