In the end, it came down to heart, to belief. Laura Robson, the 18-year-old rookie who is still finding her feet on the professional tour, had it. PetraKvitova, the former Wimbledon champion, didn’t.
Oh, my, did Laura have it. She had it in bucketloads.
The Australian Open had singularly failed to produce a big upset in five days of sweat and toil, but it suddenly caught light on a balmy Melbourne evening as Robson – who is, never forget, not even the best player in Britain – beat Kvitova in a three-hour rollercoaster of a match 2-6, 6-3, 11-9. For a set, she was outplayed. For a set, she took charge and then for a 94-minute denouement, Robson firmly stood her ground.
The tennis may not have been of the highest quality – there were 92 unforced errors between them, a total of 30 double faults and 14 breaks of serve in all – but the drama, the twists and turns of the tale, more than made up for that. The crowd were, more or less to a man, behind Robson. Perhaps it was because she has dual nationality and still holds an Australian passport, or maybe it was just that they sensed the underdog had it in her to pull off the upset. Either way, they loved her fight and her shot-making.
“I’m amazed that so many people stayed to watch,” she said to the crowd afterwards. “I thought you would all leave after Federer! Thank you.”
Robson is very much a teenager at heart and she had simply been pleased to be on the same bill as the mighty Swiss. That was a first. After last night’s performance, however, she may find herself in the spotlight as the tournament progresses. Next up is Sloane Stephens, America’s 19-year-old hope for the future and the current world No 25.
Robson lost to Stephens just last week in Hobart but, if she could out-hit and outwit Kvitova, she must fancy her chances this time around.
At the US Open last September, Robson showed her potential by reaching the fourth round and taking out Kim Clijsters and Li Na as she did so, but against Kvitova, a fellow lefthander – and she has struggled against lefties in the past – she had her back to the wall from the start. To win from that position not only took talent, but courage.
“I just have to say I feel I was playing better in New York,” she said. “I thought today was pretty ugly but, in terms of how tough it was to close it out in the end, I think it’s right up there with one of the best wins.
“I would say all the wins are equally satisfying, but this one was probably the toughest in terms of how long the match was and how up and down it was.
“I never gave up. Even when she went up a break twice in the third, I just thought I can always break her serve, I just have to get as many returns in as I can. In the end, I just thought I’ve got nothing to lose, so I’m just going to relax on my serve a bit more and just go for it.”
Unclear how to cope with Kvitova’s serve and heavy hitting, the errors flew from Robson’s racket in that opening set. To be fair, Kvitova was racking up the fluffs, too, but she was bigger, better and stronger for the first 38 minutes. Come the second set, Robson started to return a little better and, once she started to read the Czech’s serve, she started to make headway.
Even so, Kvitova took the early lead in the third set and, with the world No 8 holding a 3-0 lead, even Robson’s new Aussie fan club was willing to admit defeat. She had done well to get this far, but surely she could not turn the match around from there. Kvitova had other ideas – she served three double faults to drop her serve and give Robson a glimmer of hope. That was all she needed. Give Robson a big stage and a big crowd and she is in seventh heaven.
The more the crowd roared, the harder she fought. Kvitova, meanwhile, was clumping errors all over the place and spent much of the third set looking as if she was about to burst into tears. She could not believe what Robson was doing to her.
Even when the Briton served for the match at 6-5 and dropped her serve, Kvitova could not pull rank on her younger rival and, when Robson broke for a 10-9 lead with a belting forehand winner, she was as calm and collected as a veteran pro when she stepped up to serve out the match for a second time. One ace and two service winners did the trick.
There was the heart. There was the belief.