It was a match that popped out the second it was drawn. Crafty veteran and Roland Garros champ Francesca Schiavone against big hitting, full of promise young Brit Laura Robson.
It was pretty clear who had the edge early on. Robson played near flawless tennis on serve. Her serve out wide on both sides was devastating, and she was getting a lot of forehands. The first shot after the serve impressed, and she dictated play wonderfully. In a blink of an eye she was up a set.
The second set was much more tight. Schiavone started to hit more to the Robson backhand, and Laura’s power was beginning to disappear. At 3-3, 0-40, it looked like Robson had the match she was looking for. But five straight points from Franny and suddenly it was a different match. It seemed at that point Schiavone knew she needed to flip the switch, and she did. Chasing balls, being creative, using the slice and she had herself a break.
Taking the set and largely steamrolling through the third set, there is no doubt that Schiavone raised her level. The problem was that Robson was unable to respond. She was at times torn whether to go for it, or focus on moving her feet and hitting a clean ball. Near the end of the third set she was able to get a break and starting hitting well again, but it was a bit too late.
Having watched these players (Robson and Watson) for a bit now, and now on back to back days, I will say this much: for two girls who seem so bubbly, likable, and similar off the court, they couldn’t have less in common on the court. And I by no means is that a bad thing.
Watson is the cool, collected, technique based hitter with athletic movements and an incredibly smooth stroke for a youngster. She doesn’t get too high, she doesn’t get too low, and just tries to go about her business, for better or worse.
Watson is the near opposite. She’s had some issues closing out matches and letting the moment get to her as a youngster, but has also shown great periods of intensity. Robson doesn’t rely on a smooth stroke, she relies on pummeling the living crap out of the ball. It’s a big serve, and an even bigger lefty forehand. She hasn’t quite found the happy medium of aggression and defense, but periods of successful aggression means she is nearly unplayable, particularly on serve.
At first glance, the answer seems easy. Seems. Watson has such a consistent stroke for such a young age, something that was even apparent when I saw her last year in Toronto. She’s got a cool head. The complete package. In a sense she is already reaching that level.
Just because Robson may be lacking in things such as mental strength and movement does not mean these are things that can be worked on and improved. The one thing that Robson has that Watson will likely never have is power, something you can never underestimate in the women’s game. Movement, and in a sense, concentration levels can be improved. Robson is still only 18, and is probably still growing. A certain Maria Sharapova hardly has the greatest movement ever seen.
The transition from junior to pro is a difficult one. It is very unlikely that we will see a player such as Sharapova come through and win Wimbledon at 17; the game has changed dramatically. The fact that Robson has so much she can improve on is a proof of her ultimate potential. Staying healthy and avoiding injuries will help, and and increased mental strength and movement on top of ever increasing pace of shot could see Robson sky rocket up the rankings over the coming years. Take note.