So Laura Robson’s Wimbledons adventure is over. Whilst the nineteen year old can be happy with progress made, she may also reflect on a missed opportunity to make further progress at The All England Club.
Her comments after her defeat were revealing. “I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and at the end of the first set I had my chances. At that point I was willing myself to play unbelievable tennis when just serving would have been fine”.
Laura’s self assessment is a perceptive one. She felt, simply because it was Wimbledon, that she had to play ‘unbelievable tennis’ to win. To play at 10/10. Which meant that she would be trying far too hard, and thus getting out of rhythm and not playing naturally, or in the moment.
Even if you wanted to, you cannot will yourself to start playing unbelievable tennis. That level of tennis happens, when you are relaxed and focused, and completely immersed inside of what you are doing.
You see the ball exceptionally clearly; read the opponents shots like a book; move as if you are weightless; strike the ball right out of the centre of the racket; hit your target with precision and trust your game absolutely.
Laura Robson simply wanted to win too much. Instead of having a clear and achievable game plan, set at a level she could achieve, the teenager let her expectations get the better of her.
A level of 8/10 would have been good enough to win yesterday. But Laura Robson’s strategic failure, is the problem that has befallen other British players like Tim Henman at Wimbledon over the years.
Which is the inability to simply trust your skills and play with freedom under pressure. Caused by the external pressure exerted by the press, in their desire to create a media frenzy around a British player winning at SW19.
This external pressure transfers to the player, who ends up feeling that they can’t let others down, because so much hope is riding on them. The player feels they have a weight around their shoulders, as the consequences of losing negates their sense of freedom and expression.
Winning big matches under pressure is a very specific skill. It all comes down to how you absorb and translate the pressure. Trying harder is not the answer. Thinking clearly and trusting your skills is. To trust your skills requires a single-mindedness, that eliminates concern about what others will think, or worry about letting others down. It’s a feeling you have about yourself.
This is the quality you see in champions. An absolute and total belief in themselves. Laura Robson doesn’t have that yet. But maybe defeat to Kaia Kanepi will teach her a little more about it.