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Mauresmo Holds Nerve

Frenchwoman shakes off her past big-moment meltdowns and wins, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, against Henin-Hardenne in the Wimbledon title match.

July 09, 2006|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — Amelie Mauresmo was supposed to crumble now.

Serving for the match Saturday afternoon, for Wimbledon, on Centre Court, with a nerve that has failed her before, Mauresmo whacked an ace, 97 miles per hour, underneath Justine Henin-Hardenne's racket.

It would take Mauresmo five more points -- another ace, a couple of wobbly ground strokes and finally a 73-mph second serve that could have been crushed but wasn't. Instead, Henin-Hardenne's strokes and mind and will failed. The final shot was her mistake, a forehand smacked into the net.

The final score was 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in favor of Mauresmo, a 27-year-old from France who won her first Wimbledon title and her second major championship in the last seven months.

Mauresmo, seeded No. 1, became the first Frenchwoman in 81 years to win the Wimbledon singles championship, Suzanne Lenglen being the last in 1925. Third-seeded Henin-Hardenne was trying to make her own history. Had she won, the Belgian would have become the 10th woman in history to have completed a career Grand Slam.

Instead it was Mauresmo, feeling jubilant and vindicated, who dropped to her knees at the end of the 2 hour 2 minute championship.

"I don't want anyone to talk about my nerves anymore," Mauresmo told the Centre Court crowd. Later she said the public criticism of her big-moment mental meltdowns had been justified.

"I was, I think, realistic," she said. "I could see that sometimes the nerves got involved. So that's how I am, that's how it is. That's why it took me longer than others."

Mauresmo ran through the stands and was gathered into the arms of her coach, Loic Courteau. Mauresmo had played in her first major final at the 1999 Australian Open. She lost to Martina Hingis.

She didn't play in another until last January, when she beat Henin-Hardenne in a less satisfying way; Henin-Hardenne retired from the match because of a stomach ailment.

"It really is a special moment for me," Mauresmo said. "Having to wait so long in between my first and second Grand Slam finals and then having two in the same year is kind of great, and the work has been paying off."

After rushing through the first set in 31 minutes with a fist-pumping display of solid forehands and uncanny volleys, Henin-Hardenne seemed to lose a little power and some of her focus.

She had come to this day with a 17-match winning streak and a taxing road to the French Open championship four weeks ago. Since missing a good part of the 2004 season because of a viral illness, Henin-Hardenne said she needs to parcel out her efforts and her strength.

Henin-Hardenne said she was tired after the match. "In the last six weeks I've played five weeks, two Grand Slams and a tournament in between them," she said. "It's been pretty tough emotionally, mentally maybe more than physically in the last few weeks."

Mauresmo took an immediate 3-0 lead in the second set but gave up the service break she had gained in the second game when she briefly lost control of her backhand, making three mistakes with that stroke.

But in the next game, when Henin-Hardenne could have held serve and tied the set at 4-4, Mauresmo broke back. She zinged a passing forehand so hard that Henin-Hardenne, rushing the net, smashed the dirt with her racket before the winning shot hit the ground. Up 5-3, Mauresmo saved two break points then won the set with a 111-mph ace.

In the final set, Mauresmo gained the decisive break in the third game and never faced a break point herself, a major accomplishment for a woman most often noted for her inability to do just that in crucial situations.

Mauresmo won the WTA Tour Championship last fall in Los Angeles. It was a turning point.

"That's what Los Angeles brought me," she said. "I am capable of doing it. I proved to myself I can go after these big events. That was the real key."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box score

Amelie Mauresmo (1) defeated Justine Henin-Hardenne (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the Wimbledon singles final Saturday:

*--* Mauresmo Category Hardenne 61 First-serve pct. 56 8 Aces 1 1 Double faults 2 67 1st-serve winning pct. 61 57 2nd-serve winning pct. 60 22 Unforced errors 20 3-9 Break points 3-9 22-45 Net points 27-44 92 Total points won 88

*--*

* Time of match: 2:02

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