The two play a match of high quality and intensity; Kanepi breaks British hearts by beating Robson
Wimbledon got off on Monday to an upset and a heartbreak.
It was difficult to say which was bigger or more severe at the start of Super Monday, which showcases the entire men’s and women’s fourth round on a single day.
Was it the palpable sigh of despair as Laura Robson, Britain’s teenage sensation and new media heartthrob, failed to save a fifth match point against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi on Court One?
Or was it the sharp frisson of surprised excitement that ran through the crowd when Germany’s Sabine Lisicki fought back in the third at Centre Court to end runaway favourite Serena Williams’s extended run?
Having put away a Maria (Kirilenko), a Mariana (Duque-Marino) and a Marina (Erakovic), 19-year-old Robson — who had won only one out of her four previous singles matches at the All England Club — entered the last 16 in an unusual position: as favourite.
But such an evaluation probably placed too much weight on the fact that her Estonian opponent was ranked eight places below her and too little on her experience and achievements, which include reaching the quarterfinals in three of the four Grand Slams.
Little to choose
There was little to choose between the two players, who seemed a little on edge, in this hard-hitting match. The left-handed Australia-born Robson, despite playing much better for most of the first set to lead 5-4, failed to hold her advantage.
More importantly, she was unable to capitalise on Kanepi’s intermittent double faults. But it was Robson’s own double fault, a completely disjointed second serve that went nowhere and seemed like the tennis equivalent of a golf shank, that eventually undid her.
Low on confidence
Having lost the tiebreaker 8-6, Robson began the second set with considerably less confidence, hanging on in some frustration before eventually losing her service in the 11th game, losing the match 7-6(6), 7-5, and losing the opportunity to become the first British woman singles quarterfinalist since Jo Durie in 1984.
Her loss was preceded by predictions in the British press that Robson was set for much higher things and that the fourth round at Wimbledon would be but a footnote in an illustrious tennis career.
She certainly has the power, epitomised by a lovely looping top-spin forehand that she uses to achieve surprising depth and, whenever the opportunity presents itself, a ruthless dispatch of short returns.
What she could do with probably is better footwork — her loping strides are less evocative of the ballerina, which she dreamed of becoming, and more like a weary Maria Sharapova.
Her speed and power lies in her upper body and she uses them to impressive effect. Kanepi, who had earlier said she was confident about her match against Robson, went further by not ruling out the possibility of winning the tournament itself. This seemed like a tall claim considering a win against Robson would have pitted her against Serena.
No longer. In a wonderful match of great quality and intensity, Lisicki subdued Serena with a go-for-broke style that was fashioned around one audacious purpose: outhitting the World No. 1, who was gunning for her 35th consecutive win, which would have tied her with sister Venus for the longest streak in women’s tennis since 2000.
Lisicki, whose reputation of a giant-killer is based on big victories against the top-ranked players, including Sharapova at Wimbledon last year, was unstoppable in the first set, trouncing Serena 6-2.
The American then seemed to turn it around by winning the next 6-1, but Lisicki, who played a particularly aggressive third set with the attitude of an underdog who had nothing to lose, came back to break Serena twice in the third set and seal the match 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. In contrast with Lisicki’s hell-for-leather approach, which saw her make more winners (35 to 25), Serena seemed much too subdued on crucial points, probably anticipating that her German opponent would ride her luck and begin to make unforced errors. If so, it was an error of calculation. While Lisicki did make more unforced errors than Serena (25 against 23), it was the number of winners that carried the day.