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Monday, June 22, 2009

Robson beaten despite strong debut

Photo Titled Hantuchova visor
Daniella Hantuchova of Slovakia battling against Laura Robson in the first match on the prestigious new 4000 seater No.2 Court.

Robson despair

Photo Titled Robson despair

Laura Robson is close to tears during her closely fought defeat to Daniele Hantuchova on her first senior appearance at Wimbledon.

Britain’s newest tennis hope, 15-year-old Laura Robson, said she was a "little bit upset" but "pretty proud" after her senior Wimbledon debut where she took former world number five Daniela Hantuchova to three sets in an impressive but ultimately unsuccessful display.

The reigning junior champion, the youngest player to compete in the main draw at Wimbledon since Martina Hingis, was handed the honour of playing the opening match on Wimbledon’s new No. 2 Court. And she so nearly marked the event in true style, storming to the first set and going a break up in the second before her experienced Slovak opponent fought back to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

One year on from lifting the junior silverware, Robson’s return to Wimbledon’s famous lawns was marked with a royal welcome. The Duke of Kent, president of the All England Club, was introduced to the two players before the match as part of the proceedings to officially open the new court.

It could easily have all gone to the head of a lesser player. But Robson is no ordinary 15-year-old. Her first point playing among “adult” company at Wimbledon was a booming ace – a great statement of intent against a player ranked 456 places above her.

Robson took the first game comfortably and immediately broke Hantuchova’s serve to lead 2-0. It was just the thing she needed to calm any nerves.

Robson’s forehand was working well and that meant that Hantuchova had to patrol the baseline to deal with the accuracy of the attack. Even when Robson dropped serve in the fifth game on a double fault she was able to bounce back in the next, breaking the Hantuchova serve to lead 4-2.

And when she faced break points herself she was able to withstand the challenge of an opponent 11 years her senior. She fought off three of them in the seventh game to move 5-2 ahead, but then missed a chance at set point in the next game with a backhand error.

In the ninth game, another set point came and went as Robson hit a double fault but she then clinched the set 6-3 when Hantuchova overhit to the baseline.

The 15-year-old, who lives so close to the All England Club that she could almost have popped home for a breather at the end of that first set, was now halfway to a famous victory.

In the second set, the pressure mounted with Robson attempting to maintain her lead and Hantuchova desperately striving to come back into the contest.

In the fifth game, it looked like things were all going Robson’s way as she used a forehand to set the pace and earn a break point opportunity. She converted that chance in the next rally as Hantuchova hit just long with a cross court backhand.

With Robson 3-2 up and serving, she was in the driving seat. But in the next game, the best shot was hit by Hantuchova who pulled out a forehand down the line for a first break point. Robson saved that with a service winner but, on a second break point, double-faulted for 3-3. The momentum was with Hantuchova, but there was still plenty of impressive play from Robson, particularly two aces that saw her hold for 4-4.

Hantuchova was matching her – with two classic shots, a backhand down the line and then a forehand to show that she was ready to unsettle the British girl. In the end, it was two double faults that cost Robson dear, handing Hantuchova the second set 6-4.

Robson needed to recover from the setback and looked perturbed as the third set began with all its challenges to both players.

And as the tension grew so did the number of double faults from the young Briton. The key break of serves in the final set both came on double faults, the last of which gave Hantuchova victory.

But in almost two hours on court Robson let no one down and rapturous applause accompanied her exit from the court. She had displayed court craft beyond her years for much of the match and will have learned huge lessons in the match against a vastly more experienced opponent.

How much she has learned today, and in the past 12 months in a growing tennis spotlight, will be evident when she returns next week to defend her Wimbledon girls’ singles crown.

"I hit a couple more double faults than I would have liked to, especially on the big points. But I'm still pleased with the way I played," Robson said

"That was my Grand Slam debut today, and I played a really good match. So, you know, it's different to juniors, but it's not that much different. I mean, if I would have got killed love and love, then, yeah, I'd be coming in here with a different opinion. But I didn't, so it's not too different from the level that I'm already playing."

After the match, Hantuchova was full of praise for her opponent. "It didn't feel very good being a set down and a couple games down and getting kicked by, you know, a girl 11 years younger than me," she said.

"Because she's left handed it makes it a bit tougher, but her serve is very good. She was hitting a couple of aces a game, and also she was very smart how she was using it. So I think the serve was working very well for her.
Obviously she still has many things to improve, but I think she's on the right way.

"She seems like a very nice girl. It's important now that she has the right people around her. It's still a long way for her to go but definitely she's got a potential. And it's important she just keeps working, you know, on the right things and goes the right direction.

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