NEW YORK — If you’re a British reporter covering the U.S. Open, you don’t have much to do besides admiring the Autumnal landscape. Always nice to visit America in early September. You might even bring a racket to swat a few balls in Central Park.
But the tennis at Flushing Meadows, where the big boys and girls romp, doesn’t seem to mean much to Britain where the game was conceived in the late 19th century.
True, there was a stir over the Scotsman Andy Murray and his rise to the Wimbledon final, and the count adding another year (now 76) to the Perry Gap – the last time the Brits had a major male finalist: Fred Perry winning the U.S. title of 1936.
So if you are one of the British Tennis Brigade, you make sure to mention the admirable Perry in passing.
But the Brigadeers were abructly awakened Friday afternoon when the Slayer of Champions descended on the Open and punctured their reveries. Favorably. Happily unbelieving. “Well, this is new,” said Neil Harman, the ace of the Times of London who has absorbed so many failed hopes with the rest of his brethren.
But now – a Slayer of Champions had appeared in the person of an 18-year-old English drop-out named Laura Robson! Left-handedly, going for her shots fearlessly and hanging onto the big points to beat 3-time U.S. champ (2005, 09, 10) Kim Clijsters, then, in the second round, the current French champ Na Li, 6-4, 6—7 (5), 6-2. Next comes the defending U.S. ruler, shaky Samantha Stosur.
That would make it Belgian, Chinese and Australia victims in a row for Laura, a veritable who-she? Who will find herself in the quarter-finals if she can dump Stosur. Not an easy way farther up in the draw. Never been done before here, three successive champs intered. The closest Brit, Virginia Wade, knocked off Ann Jones in the semis and Billie Jean King in the final during her run to the 1968 title.
That was when the ladies of Britain could play tennis. Maybe Laura Hobson will restore some order, although she lost in the first round of the year’s previous majors. She was quicker than quick yesterday, made Li Na run too much with sharply angles groundies. She stole points with clever low forehands that she reached just before the second bounce.
“I knew I had to play well – and I did,” was her simple summary. So now it’s two Brits – Murray and Robson – against the rest of the world and possibly Big Ben will sound an extra bong or two.