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Sharapova tested by gutsy Robson

Russian Maria Sharapova strikes a backhand against Shahar Peer
by Alexandra Willis
Tuesday 31 July 2012

Laura Robson must be getting tired of hearing that she's 'getting closer.'

But, frustrating as it may be, it's the truth. The 18-year-old was grittily impressive in her 6-7(5), 3-6 loss to Maria Sharapova, the until recently world No.1, a match decided by mere moments that could well have turned Robson's way. 

Playing in front of a raucous Centre Court crowd, their chants, claps as amplified by the Centre Court roof as Sharapova's screeches were, Robson found herself a break down early in the first set as it looked like the Russian might move quickly through her gears. 

But the Brit broke back, clinging on to send the set into a tie-break. Swopping double-faults and then mini-breaks, all it took was two lucky bounces for Sharapova to take the set, 7-5 in the tie-break. 

"It was 5-all and she hit a serve that bounced a bit funny, so I was already a bit gone with that one," Robson said. "Then I hit a pretty solid serve, and her return, it just died basically. But it happens on grass courts, especially when they're really worn, like Centre is at the moment."

Whether it was the way the set ended that bothered her, or Sharapova stepping up a gear, the Russian broke to start the second set, and seemed determined to wrap it up in rather more quick-step fashion. But at 2-4, urged on by shouts of 'Laura, Laura, Laura," Robson broke back, and Sharapova promptly took herself off to the bathroom. Unorthodox to say the least. 

Returning to the court, the Russian broke back again, and, as she has done so many times, served her way to a third round meeting with Sabine Lisicki, her Wimbledon conqueror. 

"I definitely had chances," Robson said. "I'm pretty sure that it's the same score as the last time I played her, but today I flet it was much closer on her service games every time. I think she played a lot better than last time. She had to go for everything on her second serve. But at the same time it was definitely a good match."

But Robson's Olympics is not over yet. She will pair up with Andy Murray in the mixed doubles, the British duo awarded an ITF place. 

"[It] should be really fun playing with Andy," Robson said. "There's no reason we can't play well togehter. I think I'm fairly decent at doubles, depending on how my serve is doing. Andy is obviously one of the best returners in teh world, so we've definitely got a chance.

"If we get put on a big court, it should be a good atmosphere, like it was for my singles today. Hopefully people will rock up."

The other British female in action today, Heather Watson, had a similar testy battle against another Russian, Maria Kirilenko, albeit not quite as close. Forced to sit and wait for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic through shine, rain, and marathon third set, Watson and Kirilenko finally took to the court at around 7pm, the young Brit tasked with upsetting the 14th seed if she was to continue her Olympic campaign. 

But Kirilenko is a competitor much like Watson - the solid sort - and ultimately, she proved too consistent for the Guernsey girl. With Kirilenko breaking twice to take the first set, and once in the second, the No.1 Court crowd urged the Brit to find some way to come back, waving their Union Jacks tirelessly. But it just wasn't Heather's day, the Russian prevailing 6-2, 6-3. 

Waving to the crowd as she left the court, her head in her towel, Watson will next look forward to the summer hard court season, and a return to the USA. 

The London 2012 Olympic tennis is taking place at Wimbledon. Visit the ITF Olympics site for full scores, draws and the London 2012 site for video content, venue and schedule information.

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