Mauresmo defeats Henin-Hardenne at Wimbledon

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, July 8, 2006

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Amelie Mauresmo sank into her chair after losing the first set of the Wimbledon final and buried her face in a towel.

Then Mauresmo straightened up and gave herself a little talking-to, deciding that this was the moment to cast off the burden of being known as a player who couldn’t come through when it counted.

Can’t win the big one? Says who?

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Holding her serve and her nerve down the stretch, Mauresmo came back to beat Justine Henin-Hardenne 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday to win Wimbledon for her second Grand Slam title — and first that she got to celebrate properly.

“I don’t want anyone,” Mauresmo said, “to talk about my nerves anymore.”

This was a rematch of the Australian Open final in January, when Henin-Hardenne quit in the second set with stomach problems, denying Mauresmo a chance to feel what it’s like to earn a championship and leading to some ill feelings between the women.

“The way it ended is different,” the top-ranked Mauresmo said. “Now I had this final moment, especially this final point.”

She couldn’t stop smiling as she clutched the champion’s plate, as she climbed through the stands to hug her coach and supporters, as she addressed the audience, as she posed for photos, as she walked off the court with a wave.

Later, she donned a T-shirt made by her sponsor, reading: “2006 Wimbledon Champion. I am what I am.”

If the former wasn’t the case until Saturday afternoon, the latter has been for quite some time. Mauresmo willingly dissected and discussed her problems dealing with pressure, acknowledging it as a factor in her 13 losses in quarterfinals or semifinals at Grand Slams.

When she first spent time at No. 1 in the rankings in 2004, she was only the second woman to do so without having won a major. Mauresmo reached the 1999 Australian Open final, then didn’t get that far at a Slam until the same place this year.

In January, Mauresmo’s Australian semifinal ended when her opponent stopped because of an injury, and then came the anticlimactic final, so the issue of her fragile mental state lingered. But she got through three-set tests against major champions in the quarterfinals (Anastasia Myskina) and semifinals (Maria Sharapova) at Wimbledon, before denying Henin-Hardenne’s bid to complete a career Grand Slam.

“Now that I see all the names on the trophy, and my name is on there — Wow! That’s not so bad,” Mauresmo said. “I was thinking about the trophy all morning, and then I got my hands on it. It was bizarre.”

She triumphed despite having fewer winners (31-28) and more unforced errors (22-20) than Henin-Hardenne, who won last month’s French Open for her fifth major title.

“Two Grand Slams in a month — it’s pretty hard,” Henin-Hardenne said. net.

She earned $1.15 million, and this handwritten note from French President Jacques Chirac: “Bravo! It was magnificent! What a performance, and what elegance!”

On Sunday, Rafael Nadal will try to become the first man to pull off a French-Wimbledon double since Bjorn Borg in 1980. Nadal faces three-time champion Roger Federer, who’s won 47 consecutive matches on grass, including 27 in a row at Wimbledon.

But No. 2 Nadal is 4-0 against No. 1 Federer this year, including a victory in the French Open final.

“Sure, he’s the favorite. He has more pressure than me. That’s real. That’s true,” Nadal said. “But I’m going to play in the final of Wimbledon. I’m going to play one of the best in the history of the sport. I’m young. I hope I’m going have more opportunities, but I’m going to try my best Sunday.”

Odds are there will be far less serve-and-volley tennis in the men’s final than there was Saturday.