Wimbledon 2013: Leading lady Laura Robson shows her liking for biggest stagees of all
Briton sweeps aside Russian world No 10 in straight sets in the heat of Court One
Andy Murray apart, nobody in British tennis responds to a big stage like Laura Robson. Put the 19-year-old in the sport's equivalent of a church hall production and you never know when she might fluff her lines. Put her in the tennis version of The Globe or the Old Vic and she can play even the leading lady off the stage.
Robson's latest virtuoso performance came in one of her favourite theatres. Court One was where the Briton won the Wimbledon junior title five years ago and she returned to add to a growing list of memorable triumphs on Grand Slam stages.
Her 6-3, 6-4 victory over Russia's Maria Kirilenko, the world No 10, was Robson's best result here and gives her an outstanding chance of making further progress. She next plays Colombia's Mariana Duque Marino, the world No 117, while her potential third-round opponent is China's Shuai Peng, the world No 26.
Just as she did in beating two Grand Slam champions, Kim Clijsters and Li Na, at last year's US Open, and another, Petra Kvitova, at the Australian Open in January, Robson rose magnificently to the challenge of taking on Kirilenko. She was able to bridge a gap of 27 places in the world rankings with a combination of big serves, bold groundstrokes and a willingness to chase every ball. When she got nervous on the brink of only her second senior victory at the All England Club she kept her cool in impressive fashion.
Kirilenko is an experienced campaigner with six singles titles to her name. The 26-year-old Russian has been in the form of her life and broke into the world's top 10 for the first time by reaching the quarter-finals at the French Open three weeks ago. She is also an accomplished grass-court player. Having reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last summer, she went one round better at the Olympics before losing to Victoria Azarenka in the bronze medal match.
The Russian is a big hitter, but on this occasion she found herself outgunned as Robson cracked 31 winners to her opponent's eight. The first set was close until Kirilenko dropped serve with a double-fault in the eighth game. Robson, having served out for the first set, played beautifully at the start of the second, breaking serve twice with a succession of bold attacking strokes.
When Robson served at 4-1 and 40-15 the Briton was within five points of victory, but nerves momentarily got the better of her. Her big leftie serve, which is a major weapon when she is on song, can wobble under pressure and for the rest of the match she struggled to control her ball toss. Nevertheless, she was always composed enough to catch the ball rather than strike it at the wrong height and held firm, despite Kirilenko fighting back to 4-2 and holding serve for 4-3.
When Robson served a double-fault on the opening point of the next game it seemed that the Briton might be on the verge of imploding but she showed her character with an ace on the next point and then held serve with a big forehand winner down the line.
Serving for the match, Robson took her chance with four bold points in succession: a forehand winner, a winning serve hit wide to Kirilenko's backhand, a big forehand down the line which forced the Russian into a volley error, and finally a forehand winner which clipped the line. She greeted victory with a clenched fist and a smile as broad as Wimbledon Common.
Tara Moore went close to reaching the second round but was unable to mirror Robson's achievement, going down 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 after more than two and a half hours to Estonia's Kaia Kanepi, who as the world No 46 is ranked 148 places higher than the 20-year-old Briton.
On her Wimbledon debut, Moore levelled the match after losing a tight first set and then made another comeback from 3-0 down in the decider, at which point she took a medical time-out for treatment on her left knee, which she had strapped. The Briton broke back, saved one match point when she served at 4-5 and two more at 5-6, but on the fourth she put a forehand in the net under attack from Kanepi.
Heather Watson's Wimbledon ended in disappointment when she was beaten 6-3, 7-5 by Madison Keys, of the United States. Keys is one of the most exciting of a talented group of young Americans. Already No 52 in the world rankings, the strapping 18-year-old had too much power for Watson, who is still recovering from glandular fever, which kept her out for two months earlier this year. Watson, whose speed and athleticism are usually her greatest assets, led 4-2 in the second set but eventually ran out of steam. Nevertheless, she was desperately unlucky in the final game as Keys twice won points with balls that clipped the top of the net and toppled over on to her opponent's side of the court.
"I feel like my game isn't back yet," Watson said afterwards. "I don't think I served well today. I didn't have a high first-serve percentage. My reactions are slow. I'm not moving like I usually move, getting balls back. I don't feel like my game's there yet, so that will come back with time, time to practise. I have a big gap now to get the training in."
Plays Lu Yen-hsun (Taiw) in second round
Lost to Lu Yen-hsun (Taiw) 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 in the first round
Lost to Jerzy Janowicz (Pol) 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round
Beat Maria Kirilenko (Rus) 6-3, 6-4 in first round
Lost to Madison Keys (US) 6-3, 7-5 in the first round
Lost to Kaia Kanepi (Est) 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in the first round
Lost to Garbine Muguruza (Sp) 6-4, 6-0 in the first round
Lost to Jelena Jankovic (Serb) 6-2, 7-5 in the first round
Lost to Flavia Pennetta (It) 6-4, 6-1 in the first round
Lost to Camila Giorgi (It) 6-3, 6-4 in the first round
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