Saturday, July 08, 2006

Day 12: She is Risen

We began this year's Wimbledon talking about the role that history would play in determining the 2006 champion. Who knew that it'd be Suzanne Lenglen's title in 1925, eighty-one years ago, that would end up being the historical reference point for what happened in the women's final?

You see, Lenglen was the last Frenchwoman to win Wimbledon... until Amelie Mauresmo claimed her first SW19 title in a convincing tearing down of Justine Henin-Hardenne's defenses over the course of 2-6/6-3/6-4 victory today. Eight years after her main draw debut at the All-England Club ended with a 2nd Round loss to Yayuk Basuki, Mauresmo's wait to grasp the big plate -- and earn respect that'll last from here to eternity -- ended on Saturday.

Both Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne already had a history at Wimbledon. In 2001, JHH made her first slam final there, losing to Venus Williams. In 1996, Mauresmo won the Championships' Girls title. Henin-Hardenne wanted Centre Court to be where she completed her career Grand Slam today, but it was Mauresmo who made the fabled grounds her own, officially wiping away her Nervous Amelie rep for good. The Belgian could have cemented her tennis legacy at age 24, but it ended up being the Frenchwoman who put down a solid foundation for her own at age 27.

It didn't look as if was going to go that way early on, as Henin-Hardenne sideswiped Mauresmo from the outset, taking the world #1's rush-the-net game as her own and maintaining the aggressive demeanor throughout the 1st set while putting on a display of clever shotmaking.

Ever since her blazing start to the season, where she claimed three titles by the end of February, Mauresmo has perfected the role of "tennis drifter." She uncharacteristically dropped the ball for the French team in Fed Cup play, didn't utter a peep during the clay season and was eliminated from Roland Garros before the second week of action had barely begun. She came to London having followed up her slam-winning turn in Melbourne with more than four months of uninspiring results that made it appear as if she might be slipping back into her old patterns.

In a way, it might have been the best thing that could have happened to her to sink back into the woodwork of the women's draw. Even while being the #1-ranked player in the world and the #1 seed at SW19, she was barely a minor topic of conversation two weeks ago in spite of her three straight Wimbledon SF results. (Example: neither I nor Pierre had her reaching the SF, having Dinara Safina defeating her in the 4th Round.'s Jon Wertheim didn't, either. And ESPN's Brad Gilbert thought she might lose in the 2nd Round to Michaella Krajicek.)

I know I've said for a while now that a Wimbledon title would be more likely to fall into Mauresmo's lap out of nowhere at at time when she was generally disregarded and overlooked as a contender. Without the pressure to live up to expectations, just weeks after having so many in Paris, she would be able to better take advantage of the surface that best fits her graceful groundstrokes and volley expertise. If it would come to her, it would do so quietly and unexpectedly, I figured. (Of course, I never thought it'd ACTUALLY HAPPEN.) But that didn't mean it wouldn't be an emphatic championship... and that's just what it was today, too.

Mauresmo opened the 2nd set by winning twelve of fifteen points, but Henin-Hardenne fought to keep her within arm's reach, saving two serve games (one with five deuces, another where Mauresmo held a break point) that could have blown the set apart. At 5-3, the moment of truth arrived. Mauresmo saved three break points, when losing one might have started the avalanche that ultimately resulted in one of her patented grand slam crumbles. But much like she did against Maria Sharapova in the SF, Mauresmo caught herself before she could fall on her face.

Mauresmo held to win the 2nd set, got an early break in the 3rd, then put her head down and bulled forward toward the finish line, reclaiming the net from JHH and controlling the pace of play for the remainder of the match. This time, Mauresmo didn't have the title "given" to her at the net, she took it for herself.

No if's, and's or but's... Amelie Mauresmo is the best player in the world at the moment, with her mind, body and (most importantly) nerves all working in unison. For Justine, her quest for a career Grand Slam will continue in twelve months. But for Amelie, the quest for fulfillment is over.

Now, if these two meet up again in New York in early September to complete their '06 slam trilogy, all the ancillary issues concerning this match-up will have been long since set aside by both... and won't that be a great thing?

Advantage, Amelie. To be continued.

4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
4...Nadia Petrova
3...Shahar Peer
2...Michaella Krajicek

**MOST WTA TITLES - 2005-06**
10...Kim Clijsters [9/1]
8....Justine Henin-Hardenne [4/4]
6....Lindsay Davenport [6/0]
5....Nadia Petrova [1/4]
4....Maria Sharapova [3/1]
4....Nicole Vaidisova [3/1]

8...Justine Henin-Hardenne
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova
3...Martina Hingis
3...Maria Sharapova

AO: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova(RUS) d. Caroline Wozniacki(DEN)
RG: Agnieszka Radwanska(POL) d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova(RUS)
W: Caroline Wozniacki(DEN) d. Magdalena Rybarikova(SVK)

Love/Love... Danish gal Caroline Wozniacki, the Girls RU in Melbourne, claimed the junior title with a win over Magdalena Rybarikova by a 3-6/6-1/6-3 score.

2002 Vera Dushevina d. Maria Sharapova
2003 Kirsten Flipkens d. Anna Chakvetadze
2004 Kateryna Bondarenko d. Ana Ivanovic
2005 Agnieszka Radwanska d. Tamira Paszek
2006 Caroline Wozniacki d. Magdalena Rybarikova

Love/15... top-seeded Theimo de Bakker defeated Marcin Gawron 6-2/7-6. Interestingly, of the six slam boys finalists this season, the Dutch teen was the first of them to be seeded.

AO: Alexandre Sidorenko d. Nick Lindahl
RG: Martin Klizan d. Philip Bester
W: Theimo de Bakker d. Marcin Gawron


#1 Kristina Antoniychuk/Alexandra Dulgheru vs. #2 Alisa Kleybanova/Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#2 Martin Klizan/Andrei Martin vs. Kellen Damico/Nathaniel Schnugg

...Pavlyuchenkova is trying to win her third junior doubles slam title of the year, having claimed the girls crowns at both the Australian and Roland Garros with Canada's Sharon Fichman.
15/30... Vera Zvonareva and Andy Ram won the Mixed Doubles title. It's Zvonareva's second slam Mixed trophy, having won the 2004 U.S. Open title with Bob Bryan. Ironically, it was Bryan and Venus Williams who were on the losing side in the final. Speaking of...
15/40... Henin-Hardenne failed to get her career slam, but Bob & Mike Bryan got their's with a win in the final over Fabrice Santoro & Nenad Zimonjic. They're the first team of brothers to win the Wimbledon Doubles since Reggie & Laurie Doherty in 1905. On Sunday, Virginia Ruano-Pascual & Paola Suarez go for their career slam in the Women's Doubles.
30/40... apropos of nothing, but is there another player who's game is more perfectly built for those slow-mo TV replays than Mauresmo's? (I mean, anyone not named Federer, of course.) It's like watching a how-to video on perfect form. Actually, it's also similar to the old-time 1920's video of the balletic Suzanne Lenglen.

Hmmm... Lenglen, Mauresmo. Both French. Both Wimbledon champions eight decades apart. Coincidence?
Game, "AND NOW FOR OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION." Roger the Great is going for his 48th straight grass win and fourth Wimbledon title in a row, while Rafa Nadal is trying to become the first man in 26 years to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back (Bjorn Borg pulled off the feat three years running from 1978-80, but that's a remarkable discussion for another day.) and the first Spanish man to win SW19 since Manuel Santana in 1966. Classic possibilities for a quickly-becoming-a-classic rivalry, but will the match be as classic as the build-up? Well, if Federer really is the all-time great champion that he's supposed to be, he MUST win this match. Lose it to Nadal on grass, and the Spaniard will be called "the best player in the world," not Federer. PICK: Winner take all, FEDERER IN FOUR SETS... and bring on Federer/Nadal IX as soon as possible.

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.


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