Andy Murray will once again be the main British hope for a Grand Slam title heading into the final eight of the US Open, off the back of a comfortable victory over Canada’s Milos Raonic. But it’s his Olympic mixed doubles partner, Laura Robson, who turned the most heads in Week 1 at Flushing Meadows, knocking out first Kim Clijsters and then Li Na before finally succumbing to Sam Stosur in the round of 16.
Robson was the first British woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam in the 21st century, though, and that achievement deserves some serious applause.
After a decade of Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong bravely going down in the first round, or occasionally scraping through to the second, British women’s tennis has become an afterthought. The appearance of Robson and Heather Watson, though, seems to have it on an upward trajectory once more, and the former displayed just why she’s getting such rave reviews at the Olympics in August.
The teenager was tenacious and unrelenting throughout her fairytale run through the Olympic field, as she and Murray came from never having played doubles together in a major event before to storming through the field to claim a silver medal. The feat was made all the more impressive by the ridiculous fixture pile-up which saw the Scot play five games in three days as he also claimed the men’s singles gold medal – but Robson stepped up to the plate with a tremendous day’s tennis on ‘Super Saturday’ when the pair eliminated first Stosur and Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, then German pair Christopher Kas and Sabine Lisicki on the same day.
Robson was again impressive in the final the next day, showing no fear in her personal duel against Bulgarian powerhouse Max Mirnyi, but Murray’s fatigue started to show and the gold medal proved a step too far.
The effect on Robson’s performance, however, has been profound. That characteristic confidence looks higher than ever and she is more tactically astute, an improvement she attributes to working with her new Croatian coach, Zeljko Krajan.
Krajan, a former pro who spent some time in the top 100 in the early 2000s before an injury-enforced retirement, has focused on tactical elements of the game since he started working with Robson following the Olympics.
“The work we’ve done has been very specific in terms of tactical stuff,” said Robson. “In the last few weeks I have gained a bit of confidence.”
Her improvement continued through the US Open last week. Robson looked in control for extended periods against Belgian Clijsters, who announced her retirement after the match, and kept her head while repeatedly being broken against Chinese world number 8 Li, rebounding strongly and giving her opponent headaches galore in the final set, which she won 6-2 after being spurred on by a controversial line-call at 2-2.
The journey might have been cut short by Stosur, the defending US Open champion, this time around. But as world number 89 looks forward to a significant boost up the rankings later in the month, the future looks ever brighter for the best young product in British women’s tennis in a generation.
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