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Mauresmo looks for victorious start to clay court campaign
Sat May 6, 8:10 PM ET
World number one Amelie Mauresmo begins a significant new stage in her campaign to become a tennis legend when she tries to regain the title at the German Open which begins on Monday.
It will be the French heroine's first clay court match of the year, and therefore also her first in the build-up to the French Open and all the torment and dreams it brings.
Mauresmo has taken a five-week break to prepare for a campaign which she hopes will end with her becoming the first home woman for 34 years and only the second since Suzanne Lenglen to win the Grand Slam at Roland Garros.
All but seven of the 38 women's singles open era champions in Paris have won a tournament in the clay court build-up, and so another success for Mauresmo at Berlin's famous Rot-Weiss club is an important feature in the overall picture.
The lady from St Germains-en-Laye may not have a better opportunity than now. Mauresmo has never come to this stage of the season as world number one before and her confidence is at an all-time high.
"Having the kind of wins I have had has put me in a position where I'm pretty relaxed now in the way I handle every tournament," she said, referring to her successes in the year-end WTA Championships at Los Angeles in November and in the Australian Open at Melbourne in January.
If this is true, it would be hugely significant for the brilliant and popular but sometimes dramatically fragile player whose talents have too often been frustrated by the cumulative pressure of expectations during the clay court season.
"At least I'm not going to have those sort of questions any more," she says, referring to the capture of her first Grand Slam title. She did not add however that an entirely different sort will be revived by the French Open and its build-up and whether she can handle it.
Some of them will probably be asked by the skilfully wielded rackets of Justine Henin-Hardenne, who is not only the defending champion in Paris, but in Berlin as well.
The Belgian has an even wider range of strokes and tactical options than during her remarkable comeback from illness and injury this time last year, but there may be a diminishment in her stamina.
If Henin and Mauresmo meet again for the first time since their blighted and controversial Australian Open final, there may be a strange atmosphere.
Henin was accused of undermining Mauresmo's breakthrough triumph in Melbourne by retiring early in the second set because she was unwell, and Mauresmo has hinted that she agrees with these criticisms.
However there may be other threats to Mauresmo's progress which are just as great. Her last match was a defeat on March 30 to Svetlana Kuznetsova, who went on to win the most important title outside the four Grand Slans, the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami.
Mauresmo also lost to Kuznetsova in Dubai in February and the Russian is now playing better than at any time since winning the US Open title in 2004.
Mauresmo lost to another Russian in Doha in March - Nadia Petrova, who is the most under-rated of the leading players, the only one to equal Mauresmo's three titles this year, and playing better than at any time in her career.
Another threat, both next week and next month, is Martina Hingis. Despite a ranking down in the 20's, the former number one is probably playing as well as before her retirement three years ago, and would more than anything love to win the French, the only Grand Slam which has eluded her.
But Berlin has unusually happy memories for Mauresmo. It was here seven years ago that she reached her first major final, when she was also the first qualifier to reach a Tier One tournament final.
And it is here that another, much more career-defining first, could well move more clearly into view.
Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse