LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - The annual post-mortem into the woeful state of British women’s tennis was put on ice by Laura Robson’s surprise passage into the second round at Wimbledon but that could not mask an appalling show by the home nation.
For the third time in a decade, British women were heading for a first-round washout at the All England Club until teenager Robson raised cheers around the country with a 6-3 6-4 win over Russian 10th seed Maria Kirilenko that left her a nervous wreck.
However, it is the wreckage of British tennis that will once again be poured over after only two of the 10 entrants survived a first-round pile up.
Apart from Robson, men’s world number two Andy Murray is the only other player still flying the Union Jack, leaving Wimbledon officials ruing the decision to award seven wildcards to home hopes.
Wildcards Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Johanna Konta, Samantha Murray and Kyle Edmund’s collective record at this year’s championships stood at 11 sets played and 11 lost.
That did not stop them pocketing 23,500 pounds ($36,200) each and perhaps deny more deserving overseas players hovering around the cut off point of the rankings a place in the 128-strong Wimbledon singles draw.
British number two Heather Watson also perished on Tuesday, a 6-3 7-5 loser to rising American talent Madison Keys, but at least she was in the field on merit thanks to her ranking of 56.
She is also still trying to shake off the debilitating effects of glandular fever that kept her confined to a sick bed for eight weeks.
A month into her comeback, Watson is still taking baby steps and was realistic about her expectations despite reaching the third round 12 months ago.
“I feel like my game isn’t back yet. I don’t have a high first-serve percentage. My reactions are slow. I‘m not moving like I usually move,” the 21-year-old, who was stalked by a flock of autograph-hunters all the way down from Court Two to the locker room, said with a shrug.
There was nothing wrong with Robson’s game as her left hand unleashed eight aces and 31 winners to send the statuesque Kirilenko pirouetting out of Wimbledon.
A blazing crosscourt service winner gave the 19-year-old the first break of the match for a 5-3 lead and she made it count by wrapping up the first set when Kirilenko’s wild service return ballooned over the baseline.
That appeared to fire up 38th-ranked Robson as she smoked to a 4-1 lead but then an innocous-looking double fault not only gave her a case of the jitters but also made the crowd packed into Court One nervous.
They gasped when she dropped her serve in the sixth game, groaned when she struggled with her ball toss and whimpered when she laboured to get her first serve in at 5-4 up in the second set.
A forehand crosscourt winner finally brought relief to all concerned, especially to long-suffering British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray who had watched all of her other female charges skittled out of the tournament.
“All I would like to say is that was a world class performance,” she told Reuters as skipped down the stairs of Court One.
But while son Andy, the U.S. Open champion, might be the shining beacon of British tennis, she will be aware the nation’s long-term future remains bleak despite no shortage of funds for grass-roots tennis thanks to Wimbledon’s overflowing coffers.
The only British losers to show some fight were James Ward and Tara Moore.
Ward took a set off Lu Yen-hsun but that was not enough to secure a mouthwatering second-round date with Andy Murray, while a battling Moore fell 7-5 5-7 7-5 to Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.
$1 = 0.6492 British pounds Editing by Ken Ferris