LAURA Robson had to wait patiently all day on Thursday before learning that her match with Mariana Dulque-Marino would not take place because of rain.
When it finally got under way yesterday, on Centre Court rather than the originally scheduled No 2, the British No 1 did not hang around.
Up against a Colombian opponent who at first looked physically more powerful despite heavy strapping on her left thigh, Robson soon got on top thanks to her superior technique. There was some hesitation towards the end of the first set after she had built a commanding lead, but once that was out of the way, the home favourite was able to race through the second to complete a 6-4, 6-1 victory.
Ranked 38th in the world while Dulque-Marino is outside the top 100, Robson was always expected to win. The rankings favour her in the third round too, when she is up against the world No 71, Marina Erakovic. But, having beaten 24th seed Shuai Peng in the last round, the New Zealander will be a tougher prospect than the South American.
Should she get through that match, Robson will face another unseeded player in the last 16. After that there could be a quarter-final with Serena Williams, and there, surely, the Englishwoman’s run will end.
Of course, understandably, the 19-year-old is not looking so far ahead. She has already made significant progress here by beating tenth seed Maria Kirilenko in the first round, but she is convinced that getting close to the top of the rankings will be a long haul.
“It just takes a lot longer, I think,” she said. “You have to have a lot of confidence. You know, for a long time you have to keep your expectations low, because you’re going to have a lot of tough matches. And I’m still having so many matches where I’m thinking, ‘I should have really won that’.
“It’s all part of the learning experience. As clichéd as that sounds, you just have to take your time and keep working hard and practise.
“I think I’m handling it pretty well so far,” she continued when asked about the pressure being put on her by the home crowd. “I’ve had a fair few matches in big stadiums now where I’ve handled the crowd support perfectly fine. I love when people get involved. You know, sometimes they do a massive groan if I hit a double fault, but I’m doing it as well. So, yeah, we’re just living it together.”
Robson may be able to keep her own expectations in check, but those of others are rising steadily. Williams, for example, has predicted she could go pretty much all the way in the game. “She’s a great person, first of all,” the defending champion said when she was asked to assess Robson after her own second-round match.
“I think that starts a really good career. She has an unbelievable game. She’s so powerful. She’s so positive. She’s just so good. I think those are all qualities of what it takes to be a top player. She definitely has them all.”
Williams was then asked if being ‘a top player’ meant the top ten or the top 20. “I think she can go further than that,” she replied.
When those words were relayed to Robson, she was clearly pleased, but also joked that she did not need such praise. “Not to add any pressure or anything,” she said. “No, I mean, that’s nice of her.
“She’s obviously the best player of all time. Yeah, that means quite a lot. But I’m just going to focus on tomorrow’s match rather than top ten, top five.”
Robson’s first-round win over Kirilenko was further proof of her ability to beat a top-ten player, but she still has some way to go before she gets there herself. She looked nervous towards the end of the first set against Duque-Marino, but said the apparent hesitation was caused by the fact she is changing her service action slightly under new coach Miles Maclagan.
“I was having a little bit of timing with my serve throughout the whole match. It wasn’t to do with nerves. I thought I handled it well today. I managed to break her at the end of the first set, which was big. And yeah, just keep it together.”
No matter what the cause of her blip was, the fact is that she will have to iron out such errors if she is to continue her progress. Against a stronger, fitter player than Dulque-Marino, they could be harshly punished.
But the main thing is that Robson is learning from her mistakes, and quickly. After being broken while serving for the first set at 5-3 up, she immediately broke back. And she pressed home her advantage too, racing to a 3-0 lead in the second to firmly persuade the Colombian that any further resistance was futile.
Critics heap abuse on Kerber after collapse
Angelique Kerber faced vitriolic criticism on social media last night after the seventh seed joined the list of high-ranking casualties at Wimbledon.
The German, a semi-finalist last year, looked on her way into the third round at a set and 5-1 up in a second-set tie-break against Kaia Kanepi. But Estonian Kanepi won six points in a row before levelling the match, and powered her way through the decider to win 3-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 and set up a third-round clash with America’s Alison Riske.
The match was followed by a flurry of abusive messages directed at Kerber on her Facebook page, with one visitor posting that he wished her dead. The account from which the message was posted then appeared to have been deleted.
That poster began a message with vicious swearing and ended: “5-1 in tie brejk and u lost it i wish u dead.”
The same poster labelled Kerber “retarded” and said, “can u burn in hell ... leave the tennis pls do it just for me kanepi beat u shame on u”.
Further posts from different users were also highly critical, with one
saying: “Just embarassing Angelique. Horrible horrible performance today. Very disappointed.”
Another urged the WTA, the body that runs the women’s tour, to investigate the result.
Kerber felt the turnaround was purely down to how her opponent played than any slump in her form, saying: “I had my chances in the second set but I didn’t take them.
“In the third she was playing unbelievable and I couldn’t do anything. I mean, she won today. Well done to her.
“Maybe I could have played a little bit more aggressive on one or two balls (in the tie-break), but she played good on the important points. Also maybe in the game in the third set where she broke me for 2-0. But this is tennis.”
Kanepi was given a very tough time in the first round by Britain’s Tara Moore but impressed hugely out on Court Two yesterday, wobbling only when she tried to clinch it, twice serving double faults on match point.
The 28-year-old, who reached the quarter-finals here in 2010, has a game ideally suited for grass and creamed 52 winners on her way to victory.
France’s Alize Cornet, seeded 29th, departed Wimbledon after losing 0-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 to Flavia Pennetta on Court 12. Pennetta, who had a walkover against second seed Victoria Azarenka in the last round, will next play Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens, who beat Serbian Vesna Dolonc 6-4, 6-2.