Laura Robson is out of Wimbledon at the first hurdle but demonstrated her potential with a performance in which she outclassed one-time quarter finalist Daniela Hantuchova for a set and half and ought to have won the match.
It was Robson’s service which deserted her at key moments, rather than anything Hantuchova had to throw at her, which led the women’s tournament’s youngest competitor since Martina Hingis, 14 years ago, to exit. She led by a set and was a break up in the second before going down 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“I’m still a bit upset but I’m pretty proud of myself played really, really good for a large part of the match but a few things let me down,” Robson said later. She admitted her service was the problem. “It wasn’t as consistent as usual, probably and that had something to do with the atmosphere and the nerves. There were a couple more double faults than I would liked, especially on the big points but I’m still pleased.”
Robson showed throughout that the pencil thin Slovakian who had a Wimbledon quarter final appearance behind her in 2002 was not going to overwhelm her. Beginning with an ace and holding serve in her opening game demonstrated that fact and Robson soon revealed that she boasted the consistent faster serve – firing hers in regularly at 106mph, to Hantuchova’s 100mph, despite the establisher player’s height advantage. Robson broke the 26-year-old’s serve, was reined in to 4-2 by losing her own serve, wobbled on her first set point with a weal backhand into the net but closed it out for 6-3.
If Robson’s serve could only have held firm in the second set, she could be contemplating a second round against last season’s semi finalist Jie Zeng but her supporters – mother Kathy was flanked by Virginia Wade and Ann Jones - saw it fail her when most needed. She had broken Hantuchova to go 3-2 ahead and was two points away from a 4-2 lead when she double faulted at 30-15. The reigning Wimbledon Girls’ Singles champion defended a break point at 30-40 in the same game when, seemingly striving to push in bigger second serves than usual, she served another double to gift her opponent the break back.
Hantuchova was visibly lifted and Robson palpably tightened. The 15-year-old served to save the set at 5-4 but was unsettled by two passing forehands from her opponent and served up two more doubles to hand her the game and the set. There were a few moments of style from Robson in the third set - her feathered half volley and 103mph ace in her first service game – but Hantuchova had found her way back in and was not to relinquish it. There seemed tro be some gamesmanship as she took an age between points though Robson made nothing of that afterwards and the Slovak said it was a part of her game.
Robson’s flaky netted forehand and yet another double saw Robson broken again and there was a symbolism to the way that a double handed up the match.
“The game when I was the break up in the second I got really nervous and made a couple more mistakes than I should but she started playing more balls in the court. I was thinking what the towels were like this year – they’re really nice,” Robson said.
She said that preparation for the English GCSEs she sat two weeks ago had not affected her performance. “I was supposed to take them in Paris [during the Frech Open] but since I lost [there] I did them in London,” she said. “If I’d got killed love and love I would have come in here with a different opinion.” Next week’s girls tournament is “a whole different story” with more pressure, she concluded. “I’lll think about that next week.”