The admission that ‘Bring It On’ is up there as one of my most watched films of all time may well do little for my street credit. Ok, so it might not have boasted Oscar-winning performances or broken box office records but it did bring us the inspirational words of captain Torrance Shipman who (albeit in the American cheerleading context) defined being the best as competing against the best there is out there and beating them. In sport there is surely no alternative.
On countless occasions the success of a British athlete has been tainted by injury, error or circumstance rendering the competition weakened or absent altogether. Take Andy Murray reaching the 2012 Wimbledon final – a display of the best form of his life or a handy shortcut to success by way of the absence of Nadal and the poor form of Djokovic? And Jonnie Peacock storming home to take the 100m T44 Paralympic title, ahead of the infamous Oscar Pistorius – a gold medal worthy performance or an athlete utilising the negative media frenzy surrounding his opponent to distract and conquer?
With so many examples of external and (often wildly irrelevant) factors bearing influence on the level of praise awarded to successful British athletes, it is hardly surprising that the day when critics are made to work harder to fulfil their nitpicking duties is a particularly special one. In Laura Robson’s case, there have been a fair few days like this lately.
First came a performance beyond her years in the final of the mixed doubles at Wimbledon alongside Andy Murray. Having only played together during two exhibition events in the past, the pair had entered the competition as the wildcard duo but looked wholly at home on the court together. Robson served with confidence and offered match-winning shots with a forehand better than that which we had ever seen before from her.
Next the 18-year-old displayed her singles potential by strolling past veteran Kim Clijsters and world no.8 Li Na to reach the fourth round of the US Open. Suddenly, there was a sense of excitement at just how successful the player who held the Wimbledon girls title at the age of 14, could one day be.
The next step in Robson’s quest to be noticed was reaching her first WTA Tour final and, while the result on the face of it was a loss, she made no secret of the fact that her sights were set firmly on the top world rankings. Having already fought her way to the British number one spot, Robson is continuing to demonstrate that the tougher her opponent, the tougher she is willing to fight.
To put this into perspective, let’s look back at the beginning of this year. Robson began 2012 at number 131 in the world. Now she is banging on the door of the top 50, ready to deprive even the world’s top-seeded players of their access to the comfort zone.
This week Robson was knocked out of the second round of the China Open in straight sets by Spain’s lower seed Lourdes Dominguez Lino. Despite a disappointing end to the tournament there remains a sense that this is just the beginning for her.
2012 has been the year of coping under pressure for Laura Robson. Whether it be the absence of expectation or the opportunity to achieve as the underdog, she seems to flourish when she feels inferior to her competitor, playing only her very best tennis when the player on the other side of the court is even better.
The next step in our eyes? Replicating the form displayed in the United States next week in the HP Open in Osaka, making herself known as a genuine contender for the final rounds of major tournaments, achieving victory on home turf at Wimbledon as a senior player, growing a match-winning mixed-doubles partnership for Britain to feel proud of, and rising steadily into the top 50 and beyond in the world rankings.
Too much to ask? Something tells us she can handle it.