For Laura Robson there were only tears for souvenirs and a mature acceptance that defeats like today’s against Kaia Kanepi by 7-6, 7-5 are “all part of the learning process”.
After buoyant, upbeat interview sessions following last week’s triumphs, the odd risque joke included, it was an infinitely more sombre 19-year-old who went through the motions here with good grace but heavy heart.
She admitted to having put great pressure on herself, which was perhaps unwise since there was more than enough of that negative force being applied externally. Once-a-year tennis fans almost certainly underestimated the Estonian from the lovely city of Tallinn, who had finished last year in the top 20; it was only an achilles injury that caused her to drop lower than Robson, who admitted: “In theory I’m ranked higher, but she’s made [quarter-finals] before here, she’s very tough on grass and loves playing here. So I would say it was pretty evenly matched and I think that’s the way the match went.”
In evenly matched contests in any sport, opportunities have to be taken and the acceptance or spurning of them was the story of today’s encounter. In the third round on Saturday, Robson had begun slowly, going a set and 5-3 down to Marina Erakovic, but here she served strongly from the start with a smattering of aces and when the Kanepi serve faltered, she was able to break for a 5-4 lead. Serving for the set, however, she found the Estonian returning superbly and Robson went long to concede a break back. Falling behind in the next game she let out a first yell of frustration and after forcing the tie-break and leading it 5-2 suddenly tightened up.
Four points in a row slipped away, one of them through a dreadful double fault when Robson’s second serve bounced before even reaching the net. One set point was saved but hitting wide twice more proved costly and the Estonian was ahead after 49 minutes.
Robson’s fourth double fault early in the second set – her highest number at the Championships but still a considerable improvement on previous tournaments, with a worst of 17 – did no damage, but it became impossible to take much off the Kanepi serve and she was twice reduced to saving a break point with an ace of over 100mph.
The Court One crowd, which appeared to contain few if any Estonians, was hushed when Robson dropped her serve without taking a point to trail 5-6. Roaring her on for saving match point four times, they must nevertheless have been feeling a sense of the inevitable as the fifth arrived, whereupon Robson was caught off balance by a forehand winner.
She left hurriedly “trying not to cry” but not obviously succeeding, resigned to not after all becoming the first British women’s quarter-finalist since Jo Durie almost 30 years ago. Her forehand had been disappointing and it was not surprising to hear that she will be working on that before the US Open in September, by which time she should be a top 30 player and a seed. “I think my forehand on hard courts is going to be a weapon,” she said. “In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on trying to get a little more spin on that. That was something I didn’t really do too well today. So I’m definitely going to be working on that and continuing the work on my serve.”
Miles McLagan has been credited with much of the improvement in that department since taking on coaching responsibilities only a few weeks ago and Robson anticipates continuing to work with him.
Kanepi, who claims to be the best known sportsman or woman in Estonia - not a hugely competitive field - said: “It was a tough match and I’m just happy to get through it. My serve and my baseline game I played very well. I thought the crowd were very fair, they didn’t applaud my double faults.” She will have more support tomorrow against Sabine Lisicki.
Later she suffered a second defeat of the day, going out in the first round of the mixed doubles with Scotland's Colin Fleming when Filip Polasek and Janette Husarova beat them 6-7, 6-2 6-4.