Wimbledon 2013: Laura Robson turns on the power to make history
Teenager holds her nerve as opponent loses hers to become the first British woman to reach the fourth round of the singles event since 1998
There are still times when a nervous and immobile Laura Robson can look like so many of the home players whose failures have littered the courts of the All England Club over the years. Fortunately for British tennis, those moments are being increasingly replaced by the sight of a thrilling shot-maker who has rapidly become the country's best female prospect for more than two decades.
Both Robsons made an appearance on Court Two yesterday, but thankfully it was the sharp-shooting markswoman rather than the misfiring teenager who prevailed. After a woeful start, Robson recovered to beat New Zealand's Marina Erakovic 1-6 7-5 6-3 to become the first British woman to reach the fourth round here since Sam Smith in 1998. "It's now my second time in the second week of a Slam, so that's pretty cool," Robson said.
With Andy Murray, her mixed- doubles partner at last year's Olympics, still going strong, this is also the first year since 1998 when British players have made it into the second week of both the men's and women's singles.
Robson, having equalled her career-best performance at a Grand Slam tournament after her run to the fourth round of last year's US Open, has an outstanding chance to reach the quarter-finals. Her next opponent is the world No 46, Estonia's Kaia Kanepi.
She has guaranteed that when the rankings are updated after Wimbledon she will be the first British woman to make the top 30 since Jo Durie 26 years ago. And to think that last year she needed a wild card to compete here.
The conditions could not have been better as the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion embarked on her latest challenge. The rain of previous days was replaced by warm sunshine and there was little breeze. The overwhelming support on Court Two was for Robson.
It was the perfect setting for an afternoon of British celebration, but nobody had told Erakovic. The 25-year-old New Zealander, who won her first title this year, got off to a flier. The world No 71 found a good rhythm on her serve and hit some killer forehands as Robson struggled to find her range.
The Briton looked nervous and ill at ease for the first set and a half. Under pressure from Erakovic's consistent hitting, Robson sprayed the ball to all corners. After a heavy tumble in the second game – Erakovic also fell several times on a court where Maria Sharapova was among a number of players who had trouble keeping their feet last week – Robson did not look comfortable with her movement, which has long been her biggest weakness.
Erakovic rattled off the opening three games and took the first set in 22 minutes. When she led 5-3 in the second set the end looked close, but nerves can also affect a front-runner, and the previously rock-solid Erakovic suddenly collapsed like a house built of sand. Serving for the match, Erakovic went 15-40 down with a double fault, her second serve hitting the net barely halfway up, and on Robson's second break-point the Briton drilled a forehand winner down the line, to huge cheers.
The transformation was astonishing. As Erakovic imploded, errors flowing from her racket, Robson moved and struck the ball with growing confidence. The Briton could also take great credit for having held firm in the crisis.
Erakovic lost the second set with two successive double faults, and by the time Robson went 4-0 up in the decider the New Zealander had lost eight games in a row. She went for broke and brought the score back to 5-3, but Robson secured victory with a forehand winner down the line after an hour and 55 minutes.
"In the beginning she was playing really, really well," Robson said. "Her serve was firing, so I wasn't getting a chance on her service games. I wasn't hitting the ball well enough in my service games as well, so she was just on top of things. That's the way it goes sometimes, but you just have to hang in and wait for them to start making a few errors."
Asked about the way Erakovic had blown her chance, Robson said: "I think anyone would be tightening up serving for the match in that situation. So I just tried to put the pressure on her serve and she made a couple of double faults, which helped me. I knew that was my chance to get in her head."
Robson said there was plenty of room for improvement. "I can definitely play better than I did today, but it's tough to play your best tennis all the time," she said. "I'm just going to have to work on being super-consistent and go from there."
In the doubles, however, Robson and her American partner Lisa Raymond lost their second-round match 6-4 6-4 to the German-Czech pairing of Anna-Lena Grönefeld and Kveta Peschke, the seventh seeds.
Last time there was a British woman in the singles fourth round (Sam Smith)
Last time there were British players in the men's and women's singles fourth round (Tim Henman and Sam Smith)
Last time there were two British players in the men's singles fourth round (Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski)
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