Laura Robson loses her first-round Wimbledon singles match against Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova in three sets.
Home favourite Robson suffers early exit
LONDON // The 123rd Wimbledon Championships which a growing band of tennis followers are expecting to end in the most rare of home triumphs - a British men's singles champion in Andy Murray - came tantalisingly close to opening yesterday with a red letter day for the women's game in the host nation. Laura Robson, confidence boosted by her run to glory in the last year's junior event at Wimbledon, gave the experienced Daniela Hantuchova an almighty scare in the very first match to be played on the new Court Two and, with a modicum more composure on the key points in the latter stages of the match, would have been celebrating a magnificent victory. Robson, 15, the youngest player to appear in the main draw since Martina Hingis 13 years ago, looked anything but a debutante at this level as she outplayed her Slovakian opponent for much of their error-strewn two-hour battle before eventually bowing out 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. A set and a break up, she looked the more likely winner until tightening up in sight of the finishing line and handing her struggling rival a lifeline with a series of double-faults at the most inappropriate of times. Hantuchova, 26, who held a world ranking of No 5 six years ago, seized that chance of a reprieve and just about held her game together to squeeze through. The Slovakian arrived at the All England Club with total earnings of more than US$6 million (Dh22m), while schoolgirl Robson had picked up cheques totalling $7,935 before this first big pay day of her fledgling career. Her reward for yesterday's exciting adventure was £10,750 (Dh64,782) thanks to the wild card entry she was given. Unlike many of her forerunners in an ailing British women's game, Robson cannot be accused of just accepting a healthy pay out with little effort that some have been accused of doing for years. She looks an outstanding prospect, especially when her 100mph-plus serve is in the groove as it was until the business end of yesterday's match. "I'm pretty proud of myself," she said. "OK I'm a little upset that I didn't win but I thought I played really well for a good part of the match. Just a couple of things let me down." Robson's lack of maturity on the court tipped the balance ultimately between agonising failure and glorious success. Off the court, however, she is a match for most of her seniors as she demonstrated by dealing impressively with a variety of press conference topics - not least the thorny issue of "grunting" from some players in the women's game. "It's such an unattractive sound, isn't it," she said before having to answer questions about her school exams and whether the former Henman Hill (now Murray Mound) might one day become Robson Ridge. "It's not really a ridge, is it?" she told her inquisitor. Hantuchova admitted to being scared by Robson's powerful hitting and described the English girl's game as being similar to her own in her mid teens. "Her serve is very good and she is very smart about how to use it," said the Slovakian who faces the 16th seed Jie Zheng tomorrow after the Chinese player defeated Germany's Kristina Barrois 7-6, 7-6. Robson may one day emulate Maria Sharapova, who won the championship at the age of 17 five years ago and has since added the Australian and US Open titles. The Russian is now feeling her way back to her best form after spending nearly 10 months out of action due to shoulder problems and she had her hands full on her return to these famous lawns against the Ukrainian qualifer Viktoriya Kutuzova before progressing 7-5, 6-4. Sharapova was relieved to account for her 79th-ranked opponent without having to go the maximum distance and was pleased to report that her serving arm, which she is not yet using on full power, is holding up well to its rehabilitation programme. "I think there is still a lot of work to be done on my fitness level," said Sharapova. "It's just a matter of a few things coming together and you never know whether that's going to happen." Serena Williams, whom Sharpova denied of a title hat-trick in 2004, shared yesterday's show court billing with the Russian and the world No 2 was given a useful Centre Court work out by the Portuguese qualifier Neuza Silva who shook off first set nerves to enable her exit to be by the respectable scoreline of 6-1, 7-5. firstname.lastname@example.org