Bremond goes out a winner
By Bud Collins, Globe Correspondent | July 5, 2006
LONDON -- The black sheep wore white.
She also wore out seven antagonists, and yesterday made the eighth -- Justine Henin-Hardenne -- pay attention for the first time. After a 6-4, 6-4 defeat, the black sheep of Wimbledon, the unseeded outsider among the rich and famous chicks, traded congratulatory kisses with Henin-Hardenne, said she was tired, collected more money than she'd ever dreamed of, and took her husband to a celebration dinner.
That's a nice thing to do for your coach. You marry your coach so you should be nice to him, right? But the nicest thing this charming Frenchwoman, Severine Beltrame Bremond, has done for Eric Bremond lately is her improbable, adventurous trek through the maelstrom of qualifying and all the way to the quarterfinals of the Big W.
``I couldn't have imagined it when I started, two weeks ago," says Bremond.
Who would? Nearing her 27th birthday, she arrived in London bearing a No. 129 ranking and barely a .500 record (12-11).
But every once in a while, a nobody becomes a somebody for a while when it means the most and crashes the show. Yeah, but seldom. John McEnroe was the most renowned here, a qualifier making the semifinals in 1977. The last through the backdoor to get this far as qualifiers were Alexandra Stevenson and Jelena Dokic in 1999, presently fading away.
Nevertheless, Bremond, weaving through three wins in the qualifier at ``crazy Roehampton -- all those bad bounces" -- and knocking off No. 8 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the second round of the tournament proper, kept ducking and dodging her betters, all of them much ranked higher.
Then the real fun began, hurdling five match points to beat No. 31, Gisela Dulko of Argentina -- ``I stopped counting after three.
``Next it was Ai Sugiyama [of Japan, No. 21]. She had four set points with serve, but somehow I got into the tiebreaker where I saved five more. It was wild, 13-11, and I won, 7-6, 6-3."
The day of reckoning could not be put off. Henin-Hardenne, on a 16-match winning streak and looking like the best gal in town, brought all her guns to Court 1, and needed them, as 11,429 witnesses could testify, moving her into tomorrow's semis against Belgium's other Brussels sprout, Kim Clijsters.
Henin-Hardenne, the recent French Open champ, says, ``Severine wasn't scared of playing on Court 1 in this situation. She was coming a lot to the net, played a very solid game. I had to fight on every point."
``I love grass," Bremond says with a smile. ``I love to volley. I copied Pete Sampras and Boris Becker when I was a little girl, watching them on TV in Montpelier."
Henin-Hardenne likes the green stuff, too, and it made for a terrific 81-minute match, filled with chipping-and-charging, serve-and-volleying -- far different from the base lining norm.
They were an odd couple you won't see on the same court often: two married ladies in white caps with one-handed backhands, speaking French, and unafraid to take chances with volleying.
Steffi Graf was Fraulein Forehand, and Henin-Hardenne is Madame Backhand, launching a driving blow or a soft-and-low slice. At times, the way they assaulted each other, you could have imagined Billie Jean King and Evonne Goolagong sending them ESP messages.
Bremond spent a year at law school, but agrees that France, as well as the United States, has too many lawyers, so she hit the tennis road. Auburn hair spilling to her shoulders after the match, lovat- colored eyes joyful, she looks at this experience as ``a bonus, the best time I've had in tennis." Perhaps a new life in the game? ``I was going like this," she moves her hands up and down, ``but I found a good level. I hope I can keep it."
Now she can have a calm conversation with her mother. ``I would phone her, tell her that I won, and she would be crying. Every time. She was so happy for me. Just crying." Maybe she'll cry for a loss, too, but Bremond believes they can discuss everything reasonably now.
Besides the prize money, $141,584, her new ranking glitters, too: No. 75. ``So I'll be straight into the US Open. No qualifying. I love New York. Eric proposed to me there last year on the boat that goes around Manhattan. We were married in a romantic French village called Balaruc le Vieux, Sept. 10, and live in Vitrolles, near Marseilles."
How's life with a live-in coach? ``Eric is 40 and very considerate. When we leave the court, we leave the tennis there, and go on to real life," she said.
Understandably, Bremond was pleased by an observant line written by Chris Clarey in the International Herald Tribune -- `` She has a face that Botticelli might have been interested in painting."
Probably more so if Botticelli were around to see her volley. Maybe a portrait called Black Sheep with Racket?