It is not often that Andy Murray has company during the middle weekend of a Grand Slam. In fact, he has never seen another British singles player reach the fourth round since he took the baton from Tim Henman in 2005.
But that dismal trend ended yesterday with another magnificent victory for Laura Robson, Murray's mixed-doubles partner at the Olympics. By beating Li Na 6-4 6-7 6-2, Robson made it back-to-back wins over former Grand Slam champions, and confirmed that she had taken a huge leap forward in the last couple of months. Amazingly, she is still only 18.
In an era when success is coming later and later, in both men's and women's tennis, Robson is something of a throwback to the time when the likes of Martina Hingis and, more recently, Maria Sharapova were winning Grand Slams as teenagers. Yet it is easy to forget that -- in her words -- she is "still the baby of the locker-room," because she seems to have been on the scene for an age.
Hers has been a story of life in the spotlight from a young age, ever since she won the Wimbledon junior title aged 14.
Because of rules brought in by the Women's Tennis Association to ward against burnout, Robson (right) was not allowed to play a full tour programme until she turned 18. She also needed time to grow physically. She suffered a succession of niggling injuries as her body shot up to its full height of 5ft 11in, which made it difficult for her to train.
Robson is still not the greatest mover in the world, but she has improved significantly this year, and that shift is allowing her to show off what a talented ball-striker she is.
Against both Li and Kim Clijsters, the key to her performance was a superb service return, which regularly flew hard and deep and forced a multitude of misses on the third shot of the rally.
The first set was not a particularly fine exhibition of tennis. It was windy at Louis Armstrong Stadium, and noisy too, as the American crowd lived up to its usual habit of chatting -- and even walking around -- in the middle of points.
Meanwhile, a large plume of smoke soared above the old press box, accompanied by a fanfare of sirens as the emergency services attended a fire on the far side of the railway line.
In the middle of this hubbub, both women struggled for rhythm early on. There were repeated breaks of serve and few rallies of more than half-a-dozen shots. But the quality rose significantly as the match went on.
The second set contained just one break on each side. There were a couple of moments when Robson was only two points away from snatching it, and claiming her third successive win in straight sets at this tournament. But Li held firm, setting up a finely-balanced tie-break in which she produced easily her best tennis of the match to come through 7-5.
Robson could have been forgiven for crumbling at this stage, for Li was starting to hit the corners with her powerful forehand. Instead, she showed the inner strength that has been a feature of her run at Flushing Meadows, and has surely been boosted by the Olympic silver medal.
The Briton was the more positive and dynamic player as the match reached its conclusion. She had to deal with a couple of flash points over line-calls, including one ridiculous moment when the umpire demanded the point be replayed because of a judging error, even though Li had been nowhere near the ball. To add insult to injury, it was on a critical break-point.
To her immense credit, Robson shrugged this nuisance off. After another deuce, she converted the break to go 3-2 up, before reeling off the final three games. Her next opponent is defending champion Sam Stosur, who eased past America's Varvara Lepchenko 7-6 6-2.
One hour and 39 minutes was all it took for defending champion Novak Djokovic to book his place in the third round.
The Serbian, looking to end the year on a high, saw off Rogerio Dutra da Silva in straight sets, 6-2 6-1 6-2. It was far from a vintage performance from the 25-year-old, who converted just six of the 16 break points that came his way. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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