After two decades of disappointment, women’s tennis in Great Britain looks destined for a decade of success after youngsters Heather Watson and Laura Robson once again displayed to the tennis world why they have, for some time, been rated so highly back in the United Kingdom.
The pair, who are both former junior Grand Slam champions (Robson taking the Wimbledon crown in 2008 and Watson tasting success at the US Open a year later), have had exceptionally successful summers, incomparable to anything achieved by their compatriots over the last twenty years. Drawing inspiration from one another’s performances, the pair have risen dramatically up the WTA world rankings, and look set to continue to push each other right up to the top of the game.
The most remarkable rise up the rankings belongs to Laura Robson, who celebrated becoming the British No.1 for the first time a week earlier by becoming the first British female to reach a WTA singles final since Jo Durie in 1990 on Sunday. Unfortunately, in the sticky, humid Guangzhou conditions, the 18-year old couldn’t convert a 3-0 lead in the final set to claim victory against Hsieh Su-wei, but Robson could only draw positives from what had been a superb week which saw her rise to a career high 57 in the WTA rankings, 71 places higher than where she finished the 2011 season.
Robson’s game has developed in a number of ways. Her powerful, swinging lefty serve is a huge weapon, bouncing high and powerfully on the other side of the court. She has also become better at not only getting into rallies but also winning them against her higher ranked opponents, whilst she’s also beginning to handle the pressure of being a winning position to better effect.
The most remarkable difference in her game, however, which has become most evident since the appointment of new coach Zeljko Krajan from Croatia, is her movement. This is an aspect of her game that the 18-year old had traditionally struggled with and received many criticisms for. However, over the past seven weeks, she’s displayed an ability to move better towards the ball and get in better positions to hit shots. This in turn has allowed her to get more balls back in play and in turn win more points.
There are, of course, some aspects of Robson’s game that can still be improved. She does still, for example, struggle on occasions to serve out matches, whilst she does serve far too many double faults, therefore handing her opponents too many “free” points. The maturity she has shown in recent weeks however, along with an ability to learn, is hugely encouraging.
An appearance in the Guangzhou final capped what has been a memorable summer for Robson. After exiting Wimbledon at the first round stage, she surprised many by reaching the semi-final stage in a clay court tournament in Palermo before pairing up with Andy Murray to pick up a silver medal in the mixed-doubles at the Olympics. Just a handful of weeks later, the 18-year old would shock Li Na and Kim Clijsters on her way to the fourth round of the US Open, becoming the first British woman to reach the fourth round stage of a Grand Slam since Sam Smith in 1998.
Alongside Robson is another player with huge potential; Heather Watson. The 20-year old became the first British female to reach the third round at Wimbledon for ten years in June whilst she also made it to the second round of the French Open for the second successive year. Having finished 2011 with a WTA ranking of 92, has firmly cemented herself inside the world top 100, meaning she automatically qualifies for all Grand Slam tournaments.
The 20-year old defeated higher ranked Iveta Benesova at Wimbledon, whilst victories over higher ranked trio of Elena Vesnina Sloane Stephens and Silvia Soler Espinosa show that Watson has the ability to battle with the best players tennis has to throw at her.
The popular right-hander, who heralds from Guernsey, is a born fighter, hungry for success on the tennis court. Much like Australian star Leyton Hewitt, Watson refuses to give up in any point, believing that if she can just get one more ball back over the net, her opponent might slip up and hand her the point. She will battle hard and possesses great stamina that allows her to keep playing a high level of tennis deep into long three set matches, whilst the 20-year old, who trains in Florida at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, has developed a knack of being able to consistently hit winners that find the line – a very fine weapon for a tennis player.
Watson’s rise up the ranking’s this year has not been as meteoric as Robson’s. She finished the 2011 season in 92 place and is currently the British No.2 with a ranking of 78, but she no doubt has the ability to take that further. That has already been displayed this week, as earlier today she took world No.2 Maria Sharapova to three sets in Tokyo, having already knocked 2011 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki in the first round.
Sharapova, one of the game’s global stars, went into the match fresh, with this being her first match of the tournament. For Watson, however, it was her fourth match, having already played two qualifying rounds before beating world No.30 Lisicki. The young Brit, however, showed no ill effects and battled strongly against a very tough opponent and broke the Russian’s serve on numerous occasions, displaying just how strong a returner the 20-year old is.
Watson has also had a hugely impressive summer in doubles tournaments. Soaring to a ranking of 59 in the world (the highest for a British female for quite some time), she picked up two titles with partner Marina Erakovic in the US this summer, breathing confidence into her game and giving her more chances to learn what it’s like to play in front of bigger crowds than on the challenger circuit. Winning, of course, becomes a very nice habit too, and has no doubt assisted Watson’s singles game.
The future is, then, bright for British tennis. The pair have a thirst for success and victory, whilst unlike some of their compatriots before them, they have the potential and ability to take them right to the top of the game. Robson and Watson have firmly put Britain back on the women’s tennis map, removing some monkey’s from backs and banishing hoodoos of previous failures. Both have the ability to become top 20 players – and quickly – which will in turn lead to easier draws that will allow them to go deeper into tournaments, giving them further opportunity to pick up world ranking points. Should the young duo continue to improve at such an impressive and quick pace, they have the ability to be future Grand Slam champions…And alongside them, they already have the perfect mentor – US Open champion and London 2012 Gold medal winning star Andrew Murray.