Your English grass gives me a chance to express myself, says Mauresmo with a point to prove
Richard Jago in Eastbourne
Tuesday June 20, 2006
Two little stories indicate how important the next three weeks should be for Amélie Mauresmo, who starts her Wimbledon build-up amid the seagulls and clinking halyards today here in the Hastings Direct tournament.
One of them involved a spiky dialogue with a critical American media man who had watched the world No1 fall to a surprisingly rapid defeat on the hard courts in Miami back in April, making possible her earlier than expected return to this side of the Atlantic.
"It seems like, obviously, you're No1 in the world right now, and obviously in France they love you, and in Europe," he said with a dubious tone. "It seems that in the United States they don't really have a feel for you yet. When you came here today, maybe you could have shown [us] 'Hey, I am No1 in the world' by playing a really good match."
Mauresmo, however, was not interested in displays of who rules the heap, the one in Miami or any other. "You love that here, huh?" she said, quietly but toughly. "Yeah, you love it."
Loaded though it was, her reply stemmed mostly from not wanting to put her body through the wringer when there was preparation imminent for a series of big events, including the French Open and Wimbledon.
Unfortunately, once Mauresmo's chances at the French Open were again ground into la terre battue, she found she also had to explain herself to French scribes. "Well, in my game, it's easier to impose my rhythm on a faster court," she said. "I'm thinking in particular of Wimbledon, starting from the serve. My serve is a lot more dangerous, and I can use it a lot more as a starting point. I'm more efficient on faster courts."
Well, here she is in Britain on the faster courts and now is the time to find the rhythm. Amid the Channel breezes in Eastbourne that will not be easy. At least she wasted little time in starting the adjustment process: Mauresmo lingered four days only after yet another Roland Garros disappointment before an innovative approach to practice, which brought a couple of sessions on the turf at the British embassy in Paris.
"Yes, the grass at the embassy is good," Mauresmo said, adding as a carefully considered afterthought: "But it can improve - it's the only grass court in France, I think. It's better than playing on any other court. So, well, thanks, Mr Ambassador."
So, possibly the seeds of a French champion in Britain have been sown by Our Man in Paris. In truth, a woman with such a complete all-court game should soon do better than Mauresmo so far has at Wimbledon, where she has never been past the semis, or at Eastbourne, where last year she crashed at the first hurdle.
"I have mixed memories of playing here," she admitted. "But it's still good preparation for Wimbledon and it's a surface I like. It is fun and on grass there is always something different to adapt to. And there is not so much pressure for me coming to Britain.
"I do feel that my game suits really well to grass. It plays differently from other surfaces and I play the other players differently because we don't see many players adjusting their game, like serve and volley, coming in on the return sometimes or finishing off the points at the net.
"Most of them are still playing the same way that they do all year round. So maybe it gives me a little edge," she concluded. It will mean a popular result if it does, but then Mauresmo is the queen of maybes. There were only two Britons in the draw here and both were offered a free car if they could win a couple of matches. But we are down to one already as Katie O'Brien, a 20-year-old from Yorkshire, world-ranked 232, was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by Francesca Schiavone, the sixth-seeded Italian. O'Brien left by public transport.