Article on Amelie and Kim
Can Mauresmo or Clijsters Crack Wimbledon?Friday, 2 June, 2006
Sometimes tennis lives go through a phase where they run in tandem, and just now Amelie Mauresmo and Kim Clijsters have a lot in common. The top two players on the planet this year were the first players from their respective countries, male or female, to top the tennis rankings; each became world number one before ever winning a Grand Slam title; each was obliged to hear this fact ad infinitum; each has now joyfully dislodged the Slam monkey from her back to earn their places at the top of the women’s game; and besides all that, between them they must be the most popular and well-liked players on the women’s tour.
The moment of victory probably wasn’t quite as Mauresmo might have dreamed when Justine Henin-Hardenne decided to quit during the Australian Open final this January, but no one was in any doubt that the Frenchwoman was in total control and on her way to victory. It had been a long road since her only previous Slam final, way back in 1999 when she lost in Melbourne to Martina Hingis. But Mauresmo clearly made a crucial breakthrough last November when she triumphed in the season-ending WTA Tour Championships, where only the top players in the world are invited to compete.
“Winning there convinced me I was capable of winning a Slam title,” she said. “It really made me do things differently. I was ready to die on court in the Australian final. I’ve been waiting so long for it and worked really hard. It’s a really great achievement. Getting back to number one has been a wonderful feeling too. I’ve had some great results and a lot of memorable moments recently. I have now achieved everything I wanted in my career – winning the Fed Cup, being number one and winning a Grand Slam title. I’m very proud of all that.”
Intriguingly Mauresmo, who has her 27th birthday during this summer’s Wimbledon fortnight, has said she wants to improve her technique this year – quite an aim for someone who has already accomplished all her life’s ambitions. More intriguing still, she has said that despite her country’s yearning that she win on the Roland Garros clay, her own favourite Slam venue is Wimbledon because she feels her game adapts well to the surface.
Neither Mauresmo nor Clijsters has ever got beyond the semi-finals on the lawns of SW19, and in Clijsters’ case it is the only Slam venue where she has failed to reach a single final. But it is difficult to envisage a potentially more popular winner, not least among tennis industry insiders. Last December she was not only named Player of the Year by the International Tennis Writers but also their inaugural Ambassador for Sport Award Winner. She was Player of the Year again at the annual WTA ceremony in March, and won the Sportsmanship Award.
She also collected the prize for Comeback Player of the Year, and no wonder having become the first player of either sex to rise from outside the top 100 to the number one spot inside a year. Ranked 134 in February 2005 following a lengthy lay-off after left wrist surgery, the Belgian’s phenomenal return to competition saw her back in the top 20 by April, the top five by August, and number one in January 2006. She won a record 36 out of 37 hardcourt matches, and nine tournaments. Her season’s prize money was just shy of $4 million, a figure only ever exceeded by Clijsters herself (in 2003, when she won almost $4.5 million).
Best of all, she broke her streak of four unconverted Major finals going back to Roland Garros 2001, every one of which she lost to her compatriot Henin-Hardenne. But Flushing Meadows was her time, and when she made short work of Mary Pierce in the final, Clijsters earned the largest payday in women’s sporting history. Her cheque for $2.2 million comprised $1.1 million for the title itself, and a one hundred per cent bonus for also winning the US Open Series that summer.
Even though Clijsters only turns 23 in June, she has said she may quit the sport at the end of next year. Already 2006 has seen her deal with hip and ankle injuries, but there is a happier reason for her to look beyond tennis, now that she is engaged to American basketball player Brian Lynch. Besides, her tennis ghosts are behind her.
“Winning the US Open meant so much,” said Clijsters. “There’s a time and a place for everything. It just wasn’t my time at the previous Slams. Looking back on my injuries I think everything happened for a reason. It all worked out very well for me. I’ve proved I’m up there with the best of them.”
Written by Kate Battersby