It is a remarkable state of affairs when a 22-year-old world No 4 reckons he has let down the 15-year-old world No 403 who has been his partner, but that was Andy Murray's verdict after the final of the Hopman Cup mixed team event in Perth yesterday. Britain, in the shape of Murray and Laura Robson, were beaten 2-1 by Spain, but it was the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion who stole the show after claiming the finest singles victory of her senior career.
Robson, who has been rewarded with a wild card into the qualifying competition for the Australian Open beginning in eight days' time, got Britain off to the perfect start with a 6-1 7-6 victory over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the world No 26, only for Murray to lose 1-6 6-4 6-3 to Tommy Robredo. The Spaniards sealed their comeback by winning the mixed doubles 7-6 7-5.
"I'd like to thank my partner for playing with me," Murray said afterwards. "I kind of let her down a bit, so I feel bad about that." The results were a complete reversal of the Britons' three group matches, in each of which Robson lost her singles, watched her partner crush his own opponent and then joined him to secure victory in the mixed doubles.
Over the course of the week the Perth crowd have taken Robson to their hearts. It has helped, no doubt, that she was born in Melbourne of Australian parents, has relations in nearby Albany and family links with two local Australian Rules clubs. Perth named their main stand after her great-grandfather, Pat Fogerty, who was the club's long-time president, while her uncle, Larry Dwyer, was a member of a successful South Fremantle side in the 1970s.
Robson had been far from disgraced in her earlier singles matches – Elena Dementieva, the world No 5, said her opponent had played "unbelievably well" – and delighted the spectators with her cheeky post-match interviews. She was never reluctant to join in the banter with Murray and said she had set her sights on taking home one of the diamond-encrusted tennis balls awarded to the winners.
The Britons seemed to have one hand on those trophies when Robson won the opening match with a performance of great maturity. The 15-year-old attacked from the start, keeping Martinez Sanchez on the move and hitting a succession of winners from both flanks. She made the first break of serve in the fourth game with a superb drive volley and took the opening set in just 28 minutes.
Martinez Sanchez played her way back into contention and served for the second set at 5-3, but Robson responded with some typically aggressive play and saved a set point at 4-5. The Briton took a 6-2 lead in the tie-break, winning six points in succession, and held her nerve after Martinez Sanchez went for broke to level at 6-6. Robson won the next two points and the match with a spectacular running forehand down the line and a lovely backhand cross-court winner.
It was her first victory over an opponent ranked in the world's top 30, and afterwards she said: "I was pretty nervous in the end, but I just tried to keep going for my shots. I thought I played well, especially in the first set. I think I completely dominated. I was getting more confident throughout the week because I was playing well against these higher-ranked girls. I knew I could play that well. It was just maintaining it throughout the match."
Murray appeared well on the way to securing Britain's victory when he took the first set against Robredo in 35 minutes, but from 4-4 in the second set the match turned as the Scot's level dipped for the first time in the week. Robredo, who lost twice to Murray on the tour last year, broke serve to level the match at one set apiece and again at the start of the decider. Murray saved the world No 16's first two match points, but put a poor backhand into the net on the third.
The Britons still had their chances in the mixed doubles. They went 6-3 up in the first- set tie-break but then lost five points in succession to hand Robredo and Martinez Sanchez the advantage. Robson continued to shine, but the Britons had to save two match points at 5-4, and Robredo's backhand return winner two games later com-pleted the Spaniards' victory.
"Laura is perhaps a little more disappointed than me because of the diamonds, but I told her she can buy them with the prize money," Murray joked afterwards. Robson's cheque for Aus$75,000 (about £43,000) was the biggest prize of her career so far.
Murray added: "I'm sure Laura can speak for herself, but this week was a great experience for her. She did great today, beating a girl ranked 26 in the world. At her age that is amazing. She has the potential. I know what it's like at that age, and she is only going to get better."
Being handed a wild card into the Australian Open qualifying competition is a welcome consolation prize for Robson, who will also be playing in the juniors in Melbourne. She has appeared in the senior main draw of a Grand Slam tournament only once before, losing to Daniela Hantuchova in the first round at Wimbledon last summer, though she went within one match of qualifying for last year's US Open. This week's three rounds of qualifying begin on Thursday.
Justine Henin will also be heading for Melbourne, although there is a doubt over her participation in the year's first Grand Slam event after she aggravated a leg injury while losing yesterday's Brisbane International final to her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, 6-3 4-6 7-6. She has withdrawn from this week's Sydney International as a precaution.
It was Henin's first tournament since she announced her comeback following her retirement 20 months ago. She had two match points in yesterday's match before Clijsters won the deciding tie-break 8-6 to secure her 11th victory in 23 matches against her great rival.
In Doha, Rafael Nadal, hoping to win his first title for eight months, was beaten by Nikolay Davydenko in the final of the Qatar Open. Davydenko, recapturing the form that brought him the biggest win of his career at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in November, won 0-6 7-6 6-4 after two and three-quarter hours.
Nadal was all but unstoppable in the 31-minute first set, dropping just one point on his serve, but the second set was much tighter. The Spaniard broke back after saving three set points when Davydenko served at 5-4 and had two match points in the tie-break, which he eventually lost 10-8. Nadal led 3-1 in the decider, but Davydenko fought back and hit a winning cross-court forehand on his first match point.