Robson goes down fighting to Jankovic

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The Independent Online

It was her first match on Centre Court but there will surely be many more to come. Laura Robson was beaten 6-3, 7-6 by Jelena Jankovic in the first round here yesterday, but the manner of the 16-year-old's performance against the world No 3 suggested the brightest of futures.

Britain's former Wimbledon girls' champion, who will be young enough to compete at junior level for another three years, is playing in an increasing number of senior events, but had never faced a top 10 player before. There were times when she looked nervous, but at others she struck the ball with an assurance that belied her years.

"I thought it was going to be a lot more overwhelming, but the court's not as big as it seems on TV," Robson said afterwards. "I was a lot more nervous this morning when I woke up, but in a good way. Then when I got on to the court, I was just trying to focus on not losing 6-0, 6-0. So I think I did pretty well."

Robson, who hit 13 aces, struck the ball with formidable power on both her serve and her ground strokes. While she will never be the most fluent of movers, her shot-making and ability to rise to the occasion should take her a long way. Jankovic is a mirror image: the former world No 1 has no major weapons but defends superbly and covers the court as well as anyone.

Robson started boldly, winning the first point with a service winner, but on the only two occasions in the first set when she served double faults they were on break points. Jankovic appeared to have taken control of the second set when she broke to lead 5-3, but Robson responded superbly and saved two match points at 5-6 to force a tie-break. The Briton went on to save two more before Jankovic's consistent rallying and athleticism finally wore her opponent down.

Last year the Lawn Tennis Association came under a barrage of criticism after only two players, Andy Murray and Elena Baltacha, out of an 11-strong home contingent got past the first round. There are only eight Britons playing in the singles here this year – just two of them in the men's singles – and the first day's results were not promising.

Three other British women lost. Mel South was beaten 6-1, 6-2 by Regina Kulikova, the world No 69, while Katie O'Brien was beaten 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 by Alona Bondarenko, the world No 30, in a marathon that ended in near darkness at 9.26pm.

However, the greatest disappointment was Baltacha's 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Petra Martic, a 19-year-old Croatian playing her first match on grass. Baltacha has risen to No 52 in the world rankings, 24 places above Martic, after the best spell of her career and had seemed in control until the end of the second set.

While Baltacha's big serves and bold forehands set the pace, Martic moped around the court like a sulky teenager. Baltacha broke serve twice to take the first set, broke again to lead 3-2 in the second and served for the match at 5-4.

For a Briton, however, there is no pressure like the prospect of winning a match at the All England Club and Baltacha suddenly looked as tight as the strings on her racket. A double fault, two loose forehands and a succession of timid shots gave Martic the chance to break back and two games later the Croatian had levelled the match. The third set was painful to watch, Martic taking a 3-0 lead and then serving out for victory.

By the end of the match it was the small pocket of Croatian supporters who were making the most noise out on Court 12. "I felt like I was playing at home," Martic said afterwards. "I knew she had all the pressure."

Baltacha admitted she had got nervous when serving for the match. "I'm human," she said. "I'm not a machine." She said that handling the pressure at Wimbledon was something that British players had to accept. "You've got to deal with it. You can't take it personally. This is business."

She added: "I'm disappointed, but, you know what, I'm 52 in the world. I'm getting there. I'm rising up the rankings. I'm improving. It is the way it is. You've got to learn. You've got to move on. You've got to get better. That's what I'm going to do."