• What the Deuce

A coming of age

Jo Carter July 17, 2012
Heather Watson won the doubles title with Marina Erakovic in Stanford © Getty Images

When the latest tennis rankings were published on Monday, the plaudits deservedly went to Roger Federer, who had broken Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks as world No. 1.

It was a momentous milestone for a player who holds most of the records in tennis, but consequently the news that Heather Watson had taken over as the British No. 1 and Laura Robson had broken into the world's top 100 flew under the radar.

Watson rose to No. 71 in the WTA rankings, leapfrogging Anne Keothavong as the top-ranked British player, while Robson's rise to No. 91 saw Britain boast four players inside the top 100 for the first time in over 20 years.

It was fitting that both players made a breakthrough in the same week. Both have been hailed as the future of British tennis following success as juniors - Robson won the girls' 2008 Wimbledon title; Watson the 2009 US Open junior title.

Watson celebrated doubles victory at the Bank of the West Classic with Marina Erakovic, while Robson reached her first WTA semi-final at the Italia Open, beating some big names on the way.

Although she ultimately fell to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Robson showed she has the game to go far. In the searing Sicilian sun, Robson defeated clay-court specialists Roberta Vinci and Carla Suarez Navarro on the red dirt in Palermo.

While the casual British tennis fan will mark her achievements by her Wimbledon performance, where she fell in the first round to Francesca Schiavone, a $220,000 event in Italy saw her make the breakthrough her potential has long merited.

With huge expectation heaped on her young shoulders since her victory at the All England Club as a 14-year-old, Robson's team avoided the temptation to throw the youngster in at the deep end, managing her schedule carefully.

Robson, who turned 18 in January, has played in only a handful of Tour-level events, and it appears that cautious approach is beginning to pay dividends.

With victories over two players ranked inside the world's top 50, it was not just a breakthrough week for Robson but for the game in this country, as she became only the second British woman since 1992 to reach a WTA semi-final.

Watson is in California this week for the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, while Robson has a wildcard for the Sony Swedish Open in Bastad before they turn their attentions to London 2012 where they will team up for the women's doubles

While gold in London is a pipedream, Olympic success in Rio in four years' time is not. It remains to be seen whether the pair can build on their recent successes, but they have a real opportunity to make their mark in the women's game.

With their current rankings securing automatic qualification into the main draw of grand slams, Robson and Watson now have the chance to show they really have come of age.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk