THE TR NEWSLETTER: SATURDAY, JULY 8, NO. 183
Mauresmo faces down Henin-Hardenne for Wimbledon title
No more talk about Amelie's nerves
By Chris Bowers, Special to TennisReporters. net
Cynthia Lum/WireImage. com
Amelie Mauresmo's serve-and-volley attack was dead on.
DAY 13 FROM WIMBLEDON – Many may have been thinking it, Amelie Mauresmo said it. Just minutes after becoming the first Frenchwoman since the great Suzanne Lenglen to win Wimbledon 81 years ago, Mauresmo looked at the BBC Television interviewer Sue Barker and said in the first answer of her on-court interview: "I don't want anyone to talk about my nerves any more!"
After the battle, finally the admission that there had been a battle. For several years Mauresmo has tried various ways of denying she has had a problem with her nerves. This past week she has been a little more open, admitting that she does get tight but that she has learned to deal with it better. And today after her second Grand Slam title – but an infinitely more satisfying one than the Australian Open she won in January – came the recognition that there was a problem, albeit one that has now been solved.
"I was realistic
," she said an hour after beating Justine Henin-Hardenne 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. "I knew that the nerves got involved, but I worked at that. It's taken me longer than some players, but it's much sweeter for that
For large stretches of this final it wasn't clear at all that the problem of the nerves had been solved. Mauresmo got off to a nervous start, dropping her serve in the opening game. Even when she led 3-0 and 4-1 in the second set there was a stiffness to her movement that suggested a state of nerves that she might never escape from. Perhaps she was lucky that she caught Henin-Hardenne on a day when all her matches at Roland Garros, Eastbourne and Wimbledon caught up with her. "I felt very tired today
," the Belgian said. "I played five of the last six weeks, playing 18 matches. I don't regret it but I feel tired
The shame is that it wasn't the glorious match many had hoped for. A gusty wind kept affecting the flight of the ball, and with Henin-Hardenne tired and Mauresmo tentative, the quality of tennis wasn't the best. But Mauresmo's triumph is indeed less having mastered her nerves, more having found a way of playing when afflicted by them. When she lost confidence in her aggressive backhand, she sliced to great effect. When she wasn't swinging freely on the forehand she found delicate angles pushed with more control than power. And to keep points short, she had her volleys, the one area of her game clearly is superior to Henin-Hardenne's. "What I was really proud about was that I kept serving and volleying even though it wasn't working well in the first set
," Mauresmo said afterwards.
How much the legacy of the abortive end to January's Australian Open final played a part is hard to tell. In her public pronouncements, Mauresmo has said Henin-Hardenne's retirement at 0-2, 0-30 in the second set robbed her of nothing more than the first few moments of triumph, but privately she is said to be still fuming. Henin-Hardenne has changed her story a little since January, but in no way accepts she was at fault for retiring. There is clearly little affection between the two
Whether that led to the cold sores that reappeared on Henin-Hardenne's lips is impossible to say, but throughout her professional career they have recurred at intervals when all is not well in the Belgian's world.
Had she played remotely like the player who reached the final and won her previous two tournaments, she would surely have completed her set of Grand Slam titles. But her failure to hold serve at 3-4 in the second set was the moment the match really got away.
"She is known as a fighter, but she did not fight at certain moments
," her coach Carlos Rodriguez said. "She did not really want it. Amelie wanted this title more than Justine. Amelie deserves the title. She wanted to win the tournament more than Justine
After her nervous start, Mauresmo had broken in the second game of the second set. At 4-1, John McEnroe said on British television: "It's only one break so Mauresmo can't afford to relax. Well actually, that's exactly what she should do
The still nervous Frenchwoman dropped serve at 4-2, and it seemed entirely legitimate to talk about her nerves. But then Henin-Hardenne played a poor eighth game, Mauresmo found an ace on set point, and the match was all square.
THIRD SET WAS FIRMLY IN AMELIE'S HANDS
Mauresmo broke in the third game of the deciding set, but was it too early? When she missed a break point in the fifth, Henin-Hardenne must have fancied her chances. But Mauresmo held to 15, and then held to 30 for 5-3. Henin-Hardenne held serve to force Mauresmo to serve it out, and that became the real test of her nerve.
At the moment she needed it most, her serve performed superbly. An ace saw her to 15-0. A second ace to 30-15. Then on championship point a rally ensued. Henin-Hardenne looked the more solid, but when she netted an inside out forehand, Mauresmo sank to her knees in triumph.
"[I'm happiest] with the way I turned things around
," Mauresmo said. "You're 6-2 down against Justine in the final of a Grand Slam. You not in such great position at the time. You feel like, 'Okay, what do I need to do? How am I going to change things around? How am I gonna just make it go my way?' I really felt I pumped myself up. I let it out a little bit. I yelled a little bit. I was much more aggressive right from the beginning of that second set
It was a surprisingly mundane performance from Henin-Hardenne in the third set, who didn't challenge Mauresmo enough on her serves and completely lost control of her forehand. She was many analysts favorite to win her sixth Slam, but it's become increasingly clear that since 2004, when she struck by a mysterious virus, that she may never be able to sustain a very high level over a period of six weeks without a substantial break.
"It's very difficult to make the transition from Roland Garros to Wimbledon
," Rodriguez said. "There is a lot of pressure at Roland Garros, a lot of rallies. Then Justine comes here and she does not have a lot of lucidity in the brain to see what is going on
It seems part of Mauresmo's character to be afflicted by nerves, and it seems unlikely the subject will go away. But with two Grand Slam titles now to her name, the likeable 27-year-old can choke in a dozen more major semis or finals and still enjoy her place in the pantheon of tennis's champions. That was her triumph at Wimbledon today, and for that, the nerves can indeed go away.
She's the first Frenchwoman since the legendary Lenglen in 1925 to hold the Wimbledon title and she was a more than deserving champion.
"It is very sweet
," she said. "Maybe if it came the first time I was in a Grand Slam final seven years ago, maybe it would have not had the same taste. Things come when they have to come. For a few months now, it seems to be working pretty well for me and I finally found how maybe to handle the nerves a bit better, how my game is. I really know much more now how to play tennis than few years ago. Everything is really coming together
Bryans Complete Doubles Slam
In the doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan completed a career Grand Slam at Wimbledon with 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Fabrice Santoro/Nenad Zimonjic in the final. It was their third Slam crown in their last four majors and now they can clearly be called the top doubles team in the world.
"We've been thinking about this career Slam since we won the US Open and the Australian back to back" said Mike. "This was the last one to get. This is the one we've dreamed about our whole lives, the one that we have probably the best shot to win from serving and being pretty athletic around the net. And from the disappointment last year, losing to the qualifiers, Huss and Moody, it's good to come back and take it home. It feels great."
Bob wasn't as fortunate in the mixed final. Andy Ram/Vera Zvonareva bested him and Venus Williams 6-3, 6-2.
Additional reporting by Bill Simons and Matthew Cronin
© TennisReporters. net 2006