Britain’s Laura Robson teamed up American Coco Vandeweghe for the ladies’ doubles at the Australian Open but were eliminated in their opening match by Hao-Ching Chan and Katarina Srebotnik, 7-6(3) 6-4, on Wednesday.
The pair converted only 2 of their 11 break points, effectively letting the Taiwanese-Slovenian team off the hook.
Back playing at a Grand Slam is a triumph for Robson, who has suffered through injuries, surgery and a drop in form that effectively wrecked her career.
My goal for the end of the year is to be back in the top 100 but really, for me, I want to feel the best possible version of myself again on court. Laura Robson
It will be 10 years this summer since Robson won the girls’ title at Wimbledon, after which she transitioned well into the pros, reaching the fourth round at both the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon the following year.
She then injured her wrist in Hobart and has struggled to get back to her previous form ever since.
Asked if she had ever considered walking away from tennis, she responded: “The option has always been there. I haven’t ever had my parents or family members saying, ‘This is your role.’”
Now ranked 227 in the world, Robson could not enter qualifying for the singles at Melbourne Park and although she may have lost a doubles match, she put in an encouraging and athletic performance alongside her American partner out on Court 5 in front of a handful of fans.
Born in London of Australian expatriate parents, Robson feels at home in the UK and down under.
“I’ve been good,” she said. “Travelling a lot. I’ve been over in Melbourne quite a lot. I was here for my sister’s wedding and from Boxing Day onwards. Using the Australian passport.
“I feel very happy on court for the first time in a long time. I’m happy to be back with Martijn [Bok, her Dutch coach]. We’re putting in some good work on the practice court. I feel very happy and super motivated.”
She has spoken for the first time about the traumatic experience of attending the Route 91 Harvest festival, the country music event that was the target for the biggest peacetime massacre in American history at the hands of a deranged gunman.
On 1 October, Stephen Paddock fired from the windows of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding more than 500.
Robson was unhurt, but she admitted that the experience had left her not wanting to leave her home.
“I thought it was something on the stage. My friend, one of the girls I was with, she is from North Carolina so she was the first one to be like, ‘hang on here, that is definitely bullets’.
“We were really, really lucky in that we were off to the side so you hear everything. But we were on the way out anyway. So many people weren’t lucky.
“I got a big hug from my mum when she picked me up from the airport the next day.
“From there, I was meant to go home for a while anyway, which was probably really a good thing because I just spent five days in the house without really leaving.
“It was a crazy, crazy thing to happen and I got really, really lucky. I don’t really like to think about it.”
Now still only 23 and reunited with Dutch coach Martijn Bok, who guided her to that Wimbledon junior title in 2008, Robson is happy to concentrate on her game and to work her way back up the rankings.
She was ranked in the world’s top 30 as a teenager, but fell down the rankings after the long-term wrist problems that required surgery.
“I actually feel good,” she said. “I feel very happy on court for the first time in a long time.
“My goal for the end of the year is to be back in the top 100 but really, for me, I want to feel the best possible version of myself again on court.
“That’s something that’s just not been there the last few years.”
British pair Naomi Broady and Anna Smith also lost their opening doubles match, 6-2 6-1, to Czechs Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova, seeded fourth for the title.
There was success for Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the men’s doubles, however, as the Anglo-Brazilian pair came through a difficult first-round contest, surviving a tricky encounter with Americans Frances Tiafoe and Donald Young at Melbourne Park.
The fifth seeds and 2016 champions found themselves a set down but fought back well and Murray eventually served out a 5-7 6-4 6-4 victory, to the delight of the raft of British supporters on Court 14.