By David Kane
While young and talented Donna Vekic made a run to the Taskent final last week surprising virtually everyone, equally young and talented Laura Robson made her own mark this week by reaching the Guangzhou final, bringing many to mutter sighs of “Finally!” or the plaintive “What took her so long?”
While Vekic shocked even the most well-read tennis insiders, Robson is a name many aficionados have come to recognize. The Brit has the junior credentials Vekic lacks, with a hometown triumph at Wimbledon in 2008 and two Australian Open finals to boot.
Beyond that, Robson made the most of her time in relative obscurity by becoming a minor internet celebrity. For a while, @laurarobson5 the twitter user had more far reaching effects with her insightful and humorous tweets than Laura Robson the tennis player with the big lefty swing.
Even without those clues, however, many knew Robson was coming. She had pushed Maria Sharapova to tiebreakers at this year’s Olympics. She took silver with compatriot Andy Murray in mixed doubles. She handed Kim Clijsters the final loss of her career at the US Open, parlayed the momentum into a decisive three-set victory over the streaking Li Na before losing an overthought, overcooked match against defending champion Sam Stosur.
These results, especially her most recent success at Flushing Meadows, seemed to suggest that she had already arrived. Yet, this run to the Guangzhou final feels like the missing piece. Fans and pundits knew Robson could play well for one or two matches, and at the US Open she proved she could play well for about three and a half.
But was the teenager’s body ready for the week in, week out grind of the WTA Tour? The last few years would certainly suggest a resounding “no,” as physical and/or mental issues have often gotten in the way of potentially earlier breakthroughs.
Where Donna Vekic matched middling promise with exponential results, Robson has managed to pair obvious talent with steady improvement, along with the idea that all this time, she’s known exactly what she was doing. For example, many fans groaned at the news that she had hired Zeljko Krajan as a new coach.
The former ATP pro brought Dinara Safina to world No. 1, and Dominika Cibulkova to her first WTA title through the use of an ostensibly infallible dogma of hyperaggression. It sounded like the last thing the already aggressive-minded Robson needed, and while Cibulkova parted with Krajan when she began to question the dogma, Safina’s sticky end still rings in the minds of many.
Oddly enough, however, Krajan has brought a sense of balance to Robson’s game; in fact, it was when she reverted to blind aggression that she lost her US Open round of 16 to Stosur. Overall, the young girl who famously asked Marat Safin to accompany her to the Wimbledon Ball as a junior is beginning to play a more intelligent game and, like Vekic, like a woman.
Does all this praise seem irrelevant because neither woman won their final match? No, because even with this new maturity those big wins and career high rankings, we can still expect a few growing pains. To paraphrase another famous teenager, it’s all about the climb.