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Beyond the Baseline

Laura Robson conquers nerves, delights home crowd with rare Wimbledon win

Laura Robson Laura Robson is into the second round at Wimbledon for the second time. (Anja Niedringhaus/AP)

WIMBLEDON, England -- Laura Robson scored another victory over a top-10 player at a Grand Slam tournament, but this time she did it on home soil with about 10,000 people chanting her name.

The 19-year-old British No. 1 knocked of No. 10 Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday for just her second main-draw win at Wimbledon. Robson overcame late-match nerves to ensure that Great Britain would have at least one player in both singles draws to cheer for in the second round.

Robson, ranked 38th, entered Wimbledon having won only one match in two grass-court tune-ups, a straight-set victory in Eastbourne over a qualifier ranked No. 187. And other than winning the junior title as a 14-year-old in 2008, she had yet to post a big win at at the All England Club. That's not to say she's played poorly. She tested Maria Sharapova in a first-round loss two years ago, and last year she won the first set against Francesca Schiavone before her inconsistency got the best of her.

"I think it was a big one for me because although I really like grass and I seem to play well on it, I've never actually done overly well here," said Robson, who is playing her fifth Wimbledon. "I've only made the second round once. So, yeah, it was a big win for me. I think it was good that I managed to tough it out after I got so nervous in the second set."

After building a 6-3, 4-1 lead, Robson got rattled. The forehand began to misfire. The easy put-aways became more challenging. And the double faults started to creep in. With every missed shot, the crowd groaned.

"The general disappointment when you hit a double fault can get to you sometimes," she said. "You don't really need 9,000 people telling you."

Sure, she had beaten Kim Clijsters and Li Na at the U.S. Open last year, Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open this year and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska last month in Madrid. But Wimbledon brings a different type of pressure for Robson.

Laura Robson Laura Robson reacts after beating Maria Kirilenko. (Anja Niedringhaus/AP)

Serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, Robson had to stop her serve no fewer than five times because of a wonky ball toss. (If you've seen me play before," she said, "that's nothing new, unfortunately. It's something I'm working on.") She looked heavy-legged as she tried to will herself around the court and hit through her shots.

And yet, she closed out the match almost despite herself. Given an easy mid-court ball on match point, she hit a looping, slightly mishit forehand that looked to be going wide. She paused and looked around the court waiting for the "out" call. It never came. She threw up her hands and shrugged, almost in disbelief.

"I thought I could win. I didn't expect to win," Robson said after her fourth victory against a top-10 player. "I thought if I go out there and play well and try to dominate from the start, keep the first‑serve percentage high, I would give myself the best chance to win. That's what I was trying to focus on and that's what I managed to do."

Robson hit 31 winners, including eight aces, and committed 17 unforced errors. That left-handed firepower overwhelmed Kirilenko, who looked to be struggling with her left knee. Kirilenko didn't commit an unforced errors in the first set, and she finished with eight winners and four unforced errors.

It was a much-needed win for British tennis, which had a combined 10 players in the men's and women's main draws but is down to two: Robson and Andy Murray. Robson has opened up her section of the draw, where the remaining seeds are No. 7 Angelique Kerber (whom Robson beat in 2011, when the German was ranked 77th, for her first Wimbledon victory), No. 24 Peng Shuai and No. 31 Romina Oprandi. With Colombian qualifier Mariana Duque-Marino waiting for her in the second round, you can understand how excited the pundits are about Robson's chances for a run to the second week. Commentator Virginia Wade was practically breathless after the match, tapping the young Brit to do something "incredible" at Wimbledon Robson is downplaying the expectations.

"Virginia always gets quite excited, doesn't she?" Robson said with a knowing smile. "I'd love to win a couple more matches. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. I think the next one is going to be really tough, so just focusing on that."
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