IF LAURA Robson beats Kaia Kanepi this afternoon to reach the quarter-finals, she will have surpassed Andy Murray’s best Wimbledon achievement as a teenager. That is one indication of how well the English 19-year-old has been playing, and one more reason why expectation of her is steadily growing.
Then there were Serena Williams’s words last week, when asked how far Robson could progress. Top 20, top ten? she was asked. “I think she can go further than that,” the world No 1 replied.
Anyone who gets into the upper reaches of the top ten is capable of challenging for grand slams, and the prospect is all the more realistic for someone like Robson.
A dozen years younger than Williams, she is closing in on the top at a time when there is likely to be a power vacuum in the game.
But she is taking nothing for granted, and, as she looked forward to her match with Kanepi, would only accept that winning a major was a possibility for her at some stage of her career. “I don’t know,” Robson said. “It’s possible. It would be a very tough goal, but it is something I have always dreamed of, so I am hoping it does eventually comes true.”
When Murray reached the fourth round as a 19-year-old, beating Andy Roddick before losing to Marcos Baghdatis, it was the second stage of an annual adventure which has seen him equal or better his previous achievement each year. As an 18-year-old debutant in 2005, he got to the third round before losing a five-setter to David Nalbandian.
For Robson, this year’s success is a bigger leap. Previously she had never got further than the second round.
The prospects of her doing so this year looked slim when the draw was made, but she excelled in her opening match against No 10 seed Maria Kirilenko.
A decent win followed against Colombian qualifier Mariana Dulque-Marino, and then on Saturday she had to come back from the brink of defeat before beating Marina Erakovic of New Zealand in three sets.
The lesson seemed simple. When she is the underdog, Robson can raise her game. When she is the favourite, she struggles to assert herself.
If that pattern repeats itself today, she may not be so fortunate as she was against Erakovic. Kanepi is currently ranked lower than Robson – the Estonian is 46th in the world to the Briton’s 38th – but she was in the top 20 last summer, and reached the quarter-final here in 2010.
“It is definitely going to be a tough match,” Robson accepted. “I am happy to get through Friday and Saturday, though, because I went into those matches as favourite, which doesn’t usually happen for me in a Slam. I put a lot of pressure on myself for the last two matches to do well, so I am happy to be through. I have never played her as far as I know – which is 99 per cent sure. She always played really well here and I think has made the quarters, before so she is playing really well at the moment.
“I watched her match against [Britain’s] Tara Moore in the first round, and I went and watched all her matches on Saturday evening.”
This year is the first time since the turn of the century that the home nation has had a man and a woman in the last 16, and although the pressure on Robson is increasing, she is grateful that Murray is there to shoulder the majority of it. “I think he is taking most of it,” she said of her sometime doubles partner.
“He is doing amazingly well and playing really, really well. It would be great if he manages to get through the later stages of the tournament.
“I saw him Saturday morning and stole five minutes of his practice time. [No 4 seed Agnieszka] Radwanska kicked me off my court before I had finished serving.
“Andy was doing all his balance and things like that, so I just took his court for a couple of minutes. And my serve was better that afternoon.
“He is somebody who also dreamed of winning Wimbledon and has shown there is a path to get very close. I am a long way off and have so many things I need to work on and improve on. But it takes time and a lot of hard work, and that is what I have been doing and will continue to do.”
It will take a bit more time, probably four or five years, before Robson gets close to Murray’s level. If she does win today, which is far from certain, she is likely to meet Williams in the quarter-final, and that will surely be the end of the road for this year.
But she is definitely on the right road, a steadily ascending one, and greater consistency will come with age.