LOSING hurts – just ask Laura Robson. Affected by a sore shoulder and just 48 hours after notching up the biggest win of her career, she was brought back down to earth with an almighty bump by Sloane Stephens.
On Thursday night, 18-year-old Robson was the talk of the town as she fought tooth and nail to get the better of Petra Kvitova, the world No.8 and the former Wimbledon champion. She battled for three hours to earn her place in the third round and was the darling of the Rod Laver Arena. But yesterday she was back to reality. Out on Court 2 and going toe-to-toe with Stephens, her peer and the woman who is likely to be one of her main rivals for the foreseeable future. Stephens won 7-5 6-3.
As if taking on the American was not hard enough, Robson’s shoulder had started to ache the night before and, not entirely sure what was causing the problem, she opted to play through the pain and see how far she could take it. She gave it her best shot but, unable to serve at full pelt, was always playing catch-up.
“I felt something in my shoulder yesterday, but we still don’t know what it is because I haven’t had time to see the doctor or anything yet,” a resigned Robson said. “These things happen and you just have to play through the pain sometimes. The physios knew about it beforehand and I was taped up and everything. They just came on and tried to help me with it.
“I don’t think it was to do with the match against Kvitova because I felt OK in practice yesterday. Physically I was fine up until last night.”
Time and time again the trainer appeared on court to try to massage some life back into Robson’s serving shoulder. It was clearly a very painful process but, no matter how much work the medics did, the problem would not go away. Even so, Robson fought back from 4-0 down in the first set to level the score at 4-4 and she made Stephens work for her win. But she was doing all of this with an average first service speed of 93mph and not a single ace to her name.
“I don’t know how fast I usually serve,” she said, “but I would say today was a fair bit slower. I just did what I had to do really.”
Robson took the defeat well. Stephens would have been a tough nut to crack had Britain’s No.2 been fighting fit. One year older and more experienced than Robson, she gets every ball back and, while her game may not be the most exciting to watch, she is deadly accurate. Try taking that on with a gammy shoulder.
“Last year I lost here 6-2, 6-0 in the first round,” said Robson. “It’s a massive improvement. There are still so many things that can be worked on but I toughed out two wins. And today I thought Sloane played pretty well. So, yes, still a pretty good tournament.
“I could work on my shot selection in the points. Sometimes I still go for a bit too much where I’d be better off playing an easier shot rather than going for winners the whole time. And I think I can improve on anything.”
At least Robson left Australia with a new and growing fan base. Her heroics on Thursday, coupled with her Australian roots – she spent the first 18 months of her life in Melbourne – earned her many new followers and they packed into Court 2 yesterday. Some even braved the three hours, 38 minutes it took Andreas Seppi to beat Marin Cilic (the match before Robson’s) to be sure of getting a seat. Now that really is dedication to the cause.