Losing can often teach you more than winning and Laura Robson's coach, Martijn Bok, believes the Wimbledon junior champion will learn from her defeat in the final of the Australian Open girls' competition here on Saturday. Robson, who celebrated her 15th birthday just 12 days ago, was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by Ksenia Pervak, who has been playing senior tennis for more than two years.
"It's all about experience," Bok said. "The other girl was Russian, which means she's used to playing in a lot of dogfights, and she's three years older, which means she's learned a lot of little things that can make a difference. It was good experience for Laura."
Robson's chances turned on the eighth game. The Briton had fought back from 3-0 down to trail 4-3 and reached 15-40 on Pervak's serve with a cracking forehand winner. The Russian saved the two break points, however, thanks to a fine cross-court backhand and a Robson miss-hit, and went on to win eight of the last nine games. With tiredness beginning to tell, Robson's footwork became sluggish and as a consequence her forehand misfired on a regular basis.
"Laura started great today," Bok said. "She was 3-0 down, but they had all been tough deuce games. She wasn't nervous. She was pumped. I could see in her last warm-up in the morning that she was hungry and had the right mindset.
"From 3-0 down she started to play with her head a bit more. She started to play more cleverly, using the right shots at the right moment. It was a pity she didn't make 4-4. She then got to 30-0 on her own serve, but the other girl was smart. She was grabbing her towel, staying in the shade, letting Laura wait in the sun to serve. These are little things that Laura needs to learn.
"The Russian girl played like a wall. She moved unbelievably well, she used Laura's pace and she got everything back deep. Laura needs to learn how to break that wall down.
"Today I thought she was a little bit up and down mentally. I think she was physically tired," Bok added. "With the heat it was a very tough, long, draining week. I think she handled it well. She's had a great tournament. She had a tough draw but she really stepped it up this week. They were really tough conditions as well, so overall it was a great experience. I'm happy with what she's done here."
Robson is young enough to continue playing junior tennis until the end of 2012, but she will have graduated to the senior circuit long before then. At 15 she is restricted in the number of senior events she can play, but she made her debut in September and has already shown she can handle the step up. In her second tournament, at Shrewsbury, she reached the semi-finals and in her most recent senior appearance, at Sunderland in November, she won the title.
"She can compete with those girls already," Bok said. "In the tournament where she made the semi-finals she beat two girls who were in the top 130 in the world. If you want to do that consistently you need to get physically stronger and mentally stronger."
Having gone out in the quarter-finals of her final Melbourne warm-up event at Nottinghill, Robson has clearly improved on both fronts in the last week. Playing in the city's biggest heatwave for more than a century was a big challenge physically and she has shown great character in winning some of her matches. In her semi-final, for example, she recovered from a slow start to beat the world junior No 1.
"She's made good progress this week," Bok said. "Last week she didn't play a good tournament. This week she completely changed her mindset and was just focusing on what she needs to do to play good tennis instead of thinking of the results. I think this is something that she needs to learn to improve in the future even more.
"It's what the good players like Federer and Nadal do really well. They play one point at a time, they focus on what they need to do and on what they know works for them. They're tough like that."