Laura Robson's attempt to become the first Briton to win a title on the main Women's Tennis Association tour for 24 years ended in disappointment yesterday, but there were still plenty of positives the world No 74 could take from her week in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
Robson was beaten 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 by Su-Wei Hsieh, from Chinese Taipei, in a final played in gruelling conditions of heat and humidity. The 18-year-old Briton saved five match points in the second set and won seven games in a row to take a 3-0 lead in the decider but eventually ran out of steam.
The first Briton to reach a WTA final since Jo Durie lost at Newport, Rhode Island in 1990, Robson was aiming to become the first to win a tournament on the tour since Sara Gomer won in Aptos, California in 1988. Robson had already beaten three higher-ranked opponents – Jie Zheng (world No 22), Peng Shuai (No 47) and Sorana Cirstea (No 30) – to reach the final but came up against a 26-year-old opponent who combines durability with unpredictability. Hsieh, the world No 53, who won her first WTA title earlier this year, plays double-handed on both sides and can trouble opponents with clever variations of pace, subtle spins and drop shots.
After Robson had made the first break, Hsieh won four games in a row to take control of the first set. Robson went 2-0 up in the second, only for Hsieh to fight back and take a 5-3 lead. In the 32C heat and 60 per cent humidity Robson appeared to be wilting, but in a remarkable ninth game the former Wimbledon junior champion saved five match points with some bold attacking play.
It was the first of seven games in a row for Robson, but most of them had been close and from 3-0 down it was Hsieh's turn to launch a rearguard action. Robson stopped the rot when she served to stay in the match at 3-5, but in the next game Hsieh created her sixth match point with a typically inventive drop shot. This time Robson sent a backhand wide to give Hsieh victory after more than two-and-three-quarter hours.
Having become British No 1 last week, Robson will move further up the world rankings tomorrow, when she is expected to climb around 10 places. She has enjoyed a remarkable summer. Having reached her first WTA semi-final on clay in Palermo, she returned to Britain to win an Olympic silver medal alongside Andy Murray in the mixed doubles. At the US Open she beat two Grand Slam champions in succession, Kim Clijsters and Li Na, to become the first British woman for 21 years to reach the fourth round.
Robson had been due to play in Tokyo this week but had to withdraw because her success in China meant she was unable to play in the qualifying tournament. She will next play in the China Open in Beijing, and then in Osaka before returning to Europe, for a final appearance of the season in Moscow or Luxembourg.