Wimbledon final to be a test of nerves
By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
July 7, 2006
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Thunderclap serves, swing-for-the-backstop forehands and fist-pumping shrieks will be absent from the women's final Saturday at Wimbledon.
With the Williams family missing for the first time in seven years, raw power is out, replaced by feathery volleys, elegant backhands and bountiful butterflies.
Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo bring to the final all-court finesse and a history of edgy nerves. Both expect a fetching final -- as long as they can keep their composure.
"That's the key at this stage of a tournament," Henin-Hardenne said Friday. "It's no question really about tennis, it's a question of how you deal with the situation. The nerves are very important.
"Women are more emotional. It's not easy all the time."
Rattled by big occasions early in her career, Henin-Hardenne has coped well enough in recent years to win five major championships, including her third French Open title last month. The Belgian has reached the final in all three Grand Slam events this year, and with a win Saturday, she would become the 10th woman to win all four major titles.
For the top-ranked Mauresmo, pressure remains a problem. To her credit, she admits it.
She wavered in her semifinal victory over Maria Sharapova, blowing a 3-1, 40-love lead in the second set and enduring another lapse leading 4-0 in the third set. She dug in and ended a streak of three consecutive losses in Wimbledon semifinals.
"It's always a learning experience every time you go out on the court," the Frenchwoman said. "I'm trying to learn from the bad moments I had, learn also from the moments where I was able to overcome these moments of tension.
"We're all very different. Justine had very different experiences. She was able much younger than me to control her emotions better."
Mauresmo has been a perennial flop before home-court crowds at the French Open. She won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, but without having to close out the final -- Henin-Hardenne retired in the second set, citing an upset stomach from pain medicine she took for a shoulder injury.
Henin-Hardenne's decision to quit annoyed Mauresmo, who considered it unsporting that she was denied a chance to win match point. Their relationship has been strained since.
"I don't pay much attention to that," Henin-Hardenne said. "I play my tennis for myself."
"It doesn't matter for me what happened there," Mauresmo said. "This final is going to be about tennis. That's what I want."
It will be a different kind of tennis from recent years. Venus Williams, eliminated in the third round, is a three-time champion who reached the final five of the past six years. Serena Williams, hoping to return soon from a knee injury, is a two-time champion and was also a runner-up .
Neither was ever accused of relying on finesse -- or succumbing to nerves.
Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo play with a vast repertoire and deft touch. Both hit picturesque one-handed backhands, and neither is shy about coming to the net. Mauresmo even plays serve and volley, a strategy now rarer than grass courts.
"It's going to be tactically very exciting, very interesting," Henin-Hardenne said. "I hope we can both be in our best shape and show good tennis to the crowd."
"I think it's a great `affiche,"' said Mauresmo, using the French word for "showcase." "Talking about the style of play we both play on this surface, it's going to make it pretty exciting."
Both expect to be nervous Saturday morning. Henin-Hardenne said she'll rise early, eat a couple of hours before the match and try to visualize how she wants to play. The routine will be similar for Mauresmo, and both players expect butterflies.
The question is how quickly they subside.
"Nerves might be a big part in the match, maybe at the beginning, maybe after," Mauresmo said. "I don't know."
With a victory, Mauresmo will become the first Frenchwoman to win Wimbledon since Suzanne Lenglen in 1925. That would provide her nation with a memorable prelude to Sunday's World Cup final between France and Italy.
"I hope it's a big weekend for France," she said.
The pressure's on.
Updated on Friday, Jul 7, 2006 12:15 pm ED
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