Laura Robson doesn’t do things by halves. She wins ebulliently, and she loses with despair. For much of the first set of her match against Francesca Schiavone, the former French Open champion, it looked like Robson, the youngest player in the women’s top 100, would be leaving No.3 Court wreathed in smiles rather than head hanging.
Grass is the opposite of Robson’s Everest. The surface perfectly suits her left-handed fire-cracking serve, her hefty step-into it forehand, and the way she can whip her backhand cross court.
For the 20-odd minutes it took her to win the first set, 6-2, she showed just why she is sure to go deep at this tournament some day. Schiavone, on the other hand, who has described Wimbledon as ‘the Mecca of tennis,’ was framing her shots up, down and centre, muttering to her box as she failed to cope with the Robson pace.
Surrendering the opening set 2-6 to the girl 14 years her junior, Schiavone took a lengthy break on the change of sets, one of those things that never sits well with opponents, especially when they go on much longer than they should.
“It's really important to stay warm when anyone takes an injury timeout, especially when one lasted as long as that one did. I won my first service game, so I don't think it really affected me,” Robson said. “In general I think she took a lot of time between points, and that gave me more time to think about, what I was doing. I think that's really tough.”
Whether it was the pause in momentum, or the time it afforded Robson to think about her surroundings a little more, Schiavone’s level certainly improved, and the Italian broke to lead in the second set, serving it out 6-4.
Such is the margin for error in the Robson game, that a few mistakes can turn a match. It makes her both so thrilling to watch and convinced that there will be more to come, and also leaves one left with that ‘so close and yet so far’ feeling.
“I just went for a little bit too much on my first serve, because I was trying to stay aggressive and get the first strike in the rally,” Robson said. “That gave her more of an opportunity in the first few points of the game.
So it was that Schiavone, Grand Slam champion that she is, seized on the match, breaking to start the third set, and although Robson dug her heels into No.3 Court’s grass, and saved four match points, it was the Italian that was victory-yelling and fist-pumping at a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory, and not Robson.
"I think she played really good, particularly in the first set, but I couldn't find the timing to return on her serve," Schiavone said. "Then I found it, and I feel much more confidence and then a little bit of experience and a little bit of personality and maybe some good shot from me."
“I'm really disappointed actually,” Robson admitted. “I thought I was in control of it, and then just made a few mistakes and let her get back into the match. She's a Grand Slam champion. She took advantage of that completely.”
One might expect that Robson could be getting a little peeved at these very near-win experiences. The defeat to Ekaterina Makarova, 4-6, 5-7 in Eastbourne, was a similar case of a few points here and there, as was the 4-6, 6-3, 4-6 defeat to Marina Erakovic in Birmingham. But, looking to the positives, better to be close and within reach of a win, than on the end of a belting, as she was at the Australian Open when she lost 2-6, 0-6 to Jelena Jankovic.
“[I’m] definitely closer than a few months ago,” Robson said. “I stuck with her, even in the third set when I went 5 1 down. I've still got so many things to work on. I missed a lot of returns, and that's definitely one of the key areas I'm going to be working on in the next few days, especially going into doubles.
“I definitely believed that I could win.”
Perhaps next time, she will.
"She played good," Schiavone said. "She has good hands. She has talent. Then you never know. It's just come from inside. She has, of course, the chance."
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