AFTER her rollercoaster third-round match against Marina Erakovic, Laura Robson must have hoped for something calmer against Kaia Kanepi yesterday. She got it, but not in an advantageous way.
There were no swings of fortune, no mingling of inspiration with ineptitude, in the Briton’s last-16 clash with her Estonian opponent. Instead, both women played at a similarly consistent level throughout, with Kanepi deservedly edging the match 7-6, 7-5. Robson, at No 38 in the world eight places higher than her opponent, had her chances to win the first set, and in fact served for it. After losing the tiebreak she was under that bit more pressure in the second, but she hung on tenaciously as Kanepi began to hit shots with intimidating ferocity.
The 19-year-old was in trouble when serving at 3-3, but saved two break points. Four games later, however, she was unable to hold, and at 6-5 up Kanepi had the chance to serve for the match. It took her a while to convert that chance, as Robson saved four match points, but in the end the 28-year-old simply had too much power.
“I’m really, really disappointed,” said Robson, who had to blink back the tears as she walked off Court No 1. “I thought she played a really solid match. She can hit the ball incredibly hard off the ground, so it was tough for me to stay in the rallies. But, you know, I had my chances here and there and I just didn’t take them. I stuck in it for the majority of the second set, and then she broke me with a really good return game. So there wasn’t a huge amount I could do, but I just tried to stay positive and get my serve firing.”
Despite yesterday’s disappointment, there is a lot for Robson to stay positive about. She had not previously got beyond the second round here, and by getting to the last 16 this year became the first British woman to do so since Sam Smith in 1998.
What is more, although she is still inconsistent in patches of matches – she was as erratic in the second round against Mariana Duque-Marino as she was in the third against Erakovic – she is steadily improving. She will be in the top 30 as a consequence of her results here, and this achievement builds on her display at last year’s US Open, when she also reached the fourth round. “It’s just been this overwhelming experience,” Robson said when asked to assess her overall experience of Wimbledon 2013. “It’s been crazy, but in a good way. You know, I’m hoping to do better next year.”
Expectations of her are steadily mounting, and rightly so. She is the most naturally gifted British woman of her generation, and when confirmed in the top 30 will be the first from this country to do so since Jo Durie back in the 1980s.
But the expectation from the Wimbledon crowd at least over this past week and a bit has been tempered by allowances for her age and inexperience. Her supporters know there is still a vulnerability about her play.
In fact, the only pressure on Robson that verges on the unreasonable comes from Robson herself. She still tries to force shots at times when a more relaxed approach would be preferable, and she still castigates herself for mistakes when a more experienced player would shrug off such errors immediately.
“I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” she said when asked if she had let the pressure get to her against Kanepi. “At the end of the first set I had my chances – I served for it. In the tiebreak, as well.
“At that point, I was just trying to will myself to play unbelievable tennis when, you know, just making a serve would have been fine. But, as clichéd as it sounds, it’s all part of the learning experience. The more I get myself into those kinds of situations, the more I’m going to benefit.
“US Open last year, I was just kind of happy to be there. Today I went out and I really thought I had a chance of winning. And, you know, I was feeling confident going into the match. So, yeah, it is more disappointing.”
She did have a chance of winning, and if drawn against Kanepi a year or two from now she will beat her. She has already got the better of more gifted players, and we should not forget even to get through the first round she had to beat the No 10 seed, Maria Kirilenko. However disappointing the Kanepi match, this campaign as a whole has to be viewed as significant progress.