US Open: Laura Robson sends Kim Clijsters heading towards retirement
Who shot Bambi? Tennis fans around the world – and New Yorkers and Belgians in particular – might suggest it was Laura Robson after the 18-year-old Briton recorded a stunning victory over Kim Clijsters in the second round of the US Open here last night.
Clijsters, who is retiring after this tournament, has won the title here three times and had not lost on these courts since 2003, but the 29-year-old Belgian was outgunned as Robson played the match of her life to win 7-6, 7-6.
If it was a sorry end to the career of a player whose sunny disposition has made her one of the most popular figures in women's tennis, it was also a day to celebrate the blossoming of a talent who has looked destined for a major career ever since she won junior Wimbledon four years ago. Robson, the youngest player in the world's top 100, has repeatedly shown her ability to rise to the big occasion and demonstrated it again with a display full of character.
The world No 89, who is the second Australian-born Briton to enjoy success here following Johanna Konta's first-round win 24 hours earlier, trailed 5-2 in the first set, in which she saved three set points before twice coming from behind to win the tie-break 7-4. In the second set she repeatedly put Clijsters under pressure and played another excellent tie-break to secure victory after two hours and six minutes and earn a third-round meeting with Li Na.
Clijsters, who has still to play in the doubles and mixed doubles here, gave Robson a warm embrace at the end and said in an on-court interview: "Laura played extremely well today. I gave it all, but I just wasn't good enough at the end of the match."
When Robson was asked how she had pulled off the win, the Briton said: "I had to work my butt off." She added: "I was just trying to play as well as I could because I knew that if I didn't Kim would completely dominate."
When asked what she felt about her opponent, Robson said: "Thanks to Kim for being such a great role model to me for so many years. It's been an absolute pleasure to finally play against you."
Tournament organisers here like to schedule Americans in Arthur Ashe Stadium whenever possible, but this was a day when Belgians and Britons dominated on the main show court. All three day matches featured Belgians (Kirsten Flipkens, Xavier Malisse and Clijsters), while Andy Murray was due to finish the night session against Ivan Dodig.
The cavernous 23,000-capacity arena was less than a quarter full. There were periods when the match was played in near silence, although there were plenty of cries of "Come on Laura!" from the British contingent in the crowd and excitement grew as a major shock became an increasing possibility.
Clijsters had controlled the opening exchanges, but when she served for the first set at 5-3 Robson broke with some splendidly bold returns. It set a pattern, with Clijsters hurried into her shots by the pace of Robson' ground strokes. The Briton's big left-handed serve is another of her weapons and at 5-6 she saved three set points with unreturned serves. More bold hitting saw Robson win the last four points of the tie-break to take the second set after 57 minutes.
After an early exchange of breaks in the second set, each of them completed by double faults, both players consistently threatened each other's serve without making the final breakthrough.
Robson went within two points of victory when Clijsters served at 4-5 and had two match points at 5-6, but Clijsters held her nerve. At 5-5 in the second tie-break, however, Robson struck a wonderful forehand winner down the line and this time was not to be denied as she finished the job with another big serve. It was a fine way to complete a magnificent victory.