Summer Sportsblog: Young Brits must build on impressive Wimbledon performances

For the first time in what seems like an awfully long time, we have reached the end of the first Wednesday at Wimbledon without declaring Andy Murray as the only remaining British hopeful.


Murray’s stellar performance in beating Nikolay Davydenko in straight sets on Tuesday evening was matched by Heather Watson, who becomes the first British woman to reach the third round at SW19 since Elena Baltacha ten years ago.


Baltacha herself, remains in the women’s draw after defeating Italy’s Karin Knapp with typical grit and determination, but must overcome defending champion and 4th seed Petra Kvitova to repeat her feat of 2002.


Elsewhere, there was more good news for Britain with Anne Keothavong and James Ward also winning their first round matches.  In addition, teenager Laura Robson gave last year’s French Open Champion and seasoned campaigner, Francesca Schiavone, a real scare before bowing out with her head held high.


It is Robson and Watson, in particular, who must take most out of their experiences at the All England Club this year as it is they who have a real opportunity of challenging the elite of the women’s game.


Watson, 20, will get the chance to test herself against somebody in that category when she takes on Agnieska Radwanska, the third seed, on Friday.  The outcome of that match aside, Watson will have had a superb tournament after dropping just eight games in reaching round three.


She also became the first British woman since Jo Durie, in 1985, to win on Centre Court when she defeated Iveta Benesova on the opening day of The Championships, suggesting a fondness for the big stage.


In round two, Watson defeated Jamie Lee Hampton of the United States.  It was an important win over a player of a similar age with a similar ranking, showing that she is ready to accelerate ahead of those around her.


It was a win made to look easy by the 6-1, 6-4 score line and the first set was simple, as Guernsey-born Watson raced into a 5-0 lead before taking the first set 6-1 and then going an early break up in the second.


However, she did not consolidate that break as both players exchanged breaks of serve.  Watson had to remain fully concentrated to wrap up the match as Hampton started to find some rhythm.


The nature of the win will have pleased the Brit and evidently did with her giddy victory dance reminiscent of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga on the men’s tour.


She was not at her best in the second set.  Her first serve percentage decreased and shot selection was, at times, suspect.  But it is at these times that the best players still find a way to win, and Watson did just that.


You have to wonder whether she would have been let off the hook as easily against more experienced, higher-ranked players as Laura Robson found out on Tuesday.


The 18-year old Wimbledon Junior Champion of four years ago took the first set against Schiavone on Tuesday 6-2, with similar ease as Watson.  She was also agonisingly close to going a break up in the second before Schiavone stepped up her game and Robson was never let back into it.


Robson may well have been let off the hook against a lesser opponent.  Sadly, that was the luck of the draw.  But it cannot be a bad experience for Robson.  Indeed, losing the match may well do her more good than bad.


Afterwards Robson complained about the time her opponent was taking in between points.   ‘She took a lot of time between points’, Robson said, ‘that gave me more time to think about what I was doing.  I think that’s really tough’.


This is a challenge that Robson will have to face many times in the future.  Experienced players will think of anything possible to try and upset the rhythm of their opponents and Robson will have to think of ways to do the same herself.


But it is a weakness which has been exposed at a good time – when she is young – giving her plenty of opportunity to focus on it.


However, Robson will take confidence that she can match the game’s top players with much of her game.  Her big serve and aggressive ground strokes are a match for most and will only improve.  Her movement and footwork are seen as a weakness, but this can be worked on as Andy Murray did earlier in his career, with great success.


Watson, meanwhile, has worked on being more aggressive and taking more risks which has complemented her excellent footwork and consistency.  Her second serve is a weakness, but not one which cannot be improved.


But tennis is a year-round sport, and success at Wimbledon is just one rung – albeit a significant one – on the ladder to the top of the game.


Robson and Watson will join forces to play doubles in the Olympics at the end of next month before heading for the United States for the hard-court season in preparation for the US Open.


It is the events in the next twelve months following Wimbledon that could be crucial in determining how far these two darlings of British tennis could get in the game.  Britain’s Fed Cup captain Judy Murray has pinpointed both of them to make a real breakthrough in the coming months.


The top of the women’s game is not particularly strong and hasn’t been for a while.  Grand-slam champions are varying greatly and the top rankings are being passed around as if they are unfashionable.


There is a chance for up-and-coming stars to break into the elite – an opportunity which Robson and Watson must endeavour to take.  Both have great pedigree.  Both have received high praise from very respectable figures.  Both have put up good fights against some of the world’s top players.


With their great friendship and competitive characters, these two can push each other to become real contenders at Wimbledon and elsewhere in the next couple of years.


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