This crunch time, Mauresmo prevails

Top seed edges No. 3 Henin-Hardenne in three sets

Wimbledon

July 09, 2006|By DIANE PUCIN | DIANE PUCIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

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

Serving for the match yesterday, for Wimbledon, on Centre Court, with a nerve that has failed her before, Mauresmo whacked a nastily placed ace, 97 mph, 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 it was Henin-Hardenne whose strokes and mind and will failed. The final shot was a mistake by Henin-Hardenne, a forehand smacked into the net.

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

Mauresmo, the top seed, became the first Frenchwoman in 81 years to win the Wimbledon singles championship, Suzanne Lenglen being previous 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 both jubilant, vindicated and proud of her aggressive serve-and-volley game, who dropped to her knees and threw back her head in joy at the end of the 2-hour, 2-minute championship. Behind her, finally, was a career of big talent wasted.

"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."

An emotional Mauresmo ran through the stands and was gathered into the arms of her coach, Loic Courteau. Mauresmo played in her first major final at the 1999 Australian Open. She lost to Martina Hingis. She didn't play in another until January, when she beat Henin-Hardenne in a less- satisfying way - Henin-Hardenne retired from the match with 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 win streak and a taxing road to the French Open championship four weeks ago. Since missing a good part of the 2004 season with a viral illness, Henin-Hardenne said she needs to parcel out her efforts and her strength.

"Tired," is how Henin-Hardenne described herself after the match. "In the last six weeks, I've played five weeks, two Grand Slams and a tournament in between them. 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, Mauresmo broke back. She wound up and zinged a passing forehand so hard that the net-rushing Henin-Hardenne 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 an 111-mph ace.

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

Diane Pucin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Championship

Amelie Mauresmo (1) def. Justine Henin-Hardenne (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Mauresmo H.-Hardenne

1st-serve pct. 61 56

Aces 8 1

Double faults 1 2

Unforced errors 22 20

1st-serve winning pct. 67 61

2nd-serve winning pct. 57 60

Winners (including service) 28 31

Break points 3-9 3-9

Net points 22-45 27-44

Total points Won 92 88

Time of match 2:02

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