Five thoughts after Laura Robson’s second-round victory over Kim Clijsters at the US Open:
You sometimes hear it said that the worst thing that ever happened to Robson was winning junior Wimbledon at 14. The argument being that thereafter she would never be allowed to develop in her own time; that every duffed groundstroke would be scrutinised and over-analysed, and the casual tennis fan would grow impatient with why we are still waiting for her to achieve the golden slam yet. But it is not as if she has hidden herself away, and has climbed into a racket-bag and zipped herself up from the inside. She’s an 18-year-old in the women’s top 100, at a time when players in their 30s are winning slams. She was on the podium at the London Games this summer after winning a silver medal in the mixed doubles with Andy Murray. And then this, ending Clijsters’ career, for what was plainly the most significant moment of the British teenager’s tennis life.
Go through the list of former junior champions at Wimbledon, and you won’t recognise all the names: winning that prize at 14 or at any stage in your teens didn’t guarantee a thing. Consider where Robson is now, and it’s hard to conclude that winning junior Wimbledon is even close to being an affliction.
You could argue that Clijsters was never a serious contender for this year’s US Open singles title, and that the Belgian herself knew that she was never going to win another slam, as why else would she also have entered the doubles and mixed doubles? But let’s not downplay this. The last time that Clijsters lost a singles match in New York City, after missing a few years because of ‘retirement’ and injury, Robson was 10 (that was in 2004 when Clijsters lost to Justine Henin). Robson knew that she was playing to end the singles career of a former world No 1 who has won the US Open three times. Plus she also had to cope with competing on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Yes, she hasn’t beaten Serena Williams, but this was the occasion when Robson launched herself in the grown-ups.
American now knows who Robson is. Win her next match, against Li Na, and the People’s Republic of China will also take notice.
Robson shouldn’t feel sad or bad about ending Clijsters’ career. Who knows, Clijsters could even leave New York with another slam title, with success in one of the doubles competitions (she’s playing with Bob Bryan in the mixed).
When Benjamin Becker ended Andre Agassi’s career at the 2006 US Open, the occasion was all Agassi’s. Largely because of who Agassi was, but also because not many imagined that Benjamin would ever go on to achieve a great deal. This time, the player going into retirement is having to share the arc-lights with the player who bumped them off.
It was a moot point what was most impressive about Robson’s performance – the way she moved around the cement or the way she carried herself.