Thursday, December 03, 2009

BACKSPIN SPECIAL: The Best of Amelie

Hail, Amelie. Full of grace.

Two-time slam champion and former world #1 Amelie Mauresmo announced her retirement today. In a decade dominated by power-hitting and sometimes absent-minded tennis, the Frenchwoman was one of the rare exceptions. Her elegant game, filled with enough slice, touch, fluid athleticism and, especially, innate intelligence, to fill a book of poetry, was at once a joy to watch, as well as lament over the last couple of seasons as she noticably neared her career's end and it became apparent that we weren't likely to see many (if any) players with her particular sort of verve ever again.

For many years, it was easy to overlook the almost casually-looking brilliance of Mauresmo's game because of her inability to put it on full display at one of the four biggest events of any given season. Trust me, I know... because I often did choose to harp on what she hadn't accomplished rather than how beautifully she played the sport. I feel bad about that now.

That she became the second woman to ever reach the top of the women's rankings without having won a slam, rather than be the anchor around her career's neck that it appeared to be at the time, now reads like a prelude to the career she ultimately put together when all was said and done. Once she found a way to come out on top (twice, in fact) in a grand slam event in 2006, all the negative chatter was better left in the past. At that point, as she'd finally taken her proper place in the history of the game, it was time to fully appreciate her. I'd like to think that I've done that in recent seasons, including when I gave her what I sort of figured might be her career's last rites during the Decade's Best series, even if I was a bit "late" to the proceedings.

Diane Dees over at "Women Who Serve" wasn't, though. A career-long fan of Mauresmo, her elegy to Amelie's career is a sweet look back at a player whose flair was but a small part of the big picture. I suggest giving it a look-see.

Whether Mauresmo retired a year too late, or maybe a year too early, preventing a proper season-long send-off, will remain a question. But the joy of watching her at the top of her game will never be. Thank goodness for video... and memories.

As far as this space goes, here's a Backspin history of Amelie, first with a sampling of how I saw her in 2001-02 (since those old links have long since been lost to the internet gremlins), then with all the major appearances by Mauresmo in this space from 2003-09, in link form:

=December 21, 2001: 2002 Intriguing Question: Will Amelie Mauresmo finally have a grand slam to be proud of?=

9.Will Amelie Mauresmo finally have a grand slam to be proud of?
...Since bursting onto the scene with a RU performance at the 1999 Australian, Mauresmo has failed to put up a single great performance at another slam. Before 2001's QF at the US Open, she'd never advanced past another 4r at a major. Mauresmo's power game is certainly built to contend in the newly-powerful world of women's tennis, but it's her nerves that are usually her undoing on the big stage. Her hard court results have been disappointing, but Mauresmo's had great success on the clay (winning 4 events on the surface this past Spring). Thus, RG would seem to be her best chance to win a slam, but she's never been able to live up to the pressure of the expectant home French crowd... and generally goes down in flames quite early. She's never advanced past the 4r there, and bowed out in the 1r in '01 after such a great pre-RG run. With a chance to get things into gear in the season-closing Championships in Munich, she again was defeated in her first match (by fellow Frenchwoman Sandrine Testud, no less).
VERDICT: Mauresmo will always be preceived as a threat going into most slams, but that talk always comes equipped with a qualifying rider that goes something like "if she can ever get it together and win a big match." The choker label will continue to trail behind her like a homesick puppy, and she won't be able to shake it in 2002.

=August 19, 2002: Getting Ready=

MONTREAL, QUEBEC (Tier I - Hardcourt)
Amelie Mauresmo d. Jennifer Capriati
D: Ruano-Pascual/Suarez d. Fujiwara/Sugiyama

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Amelie Mauresmo
....No surprise here. Apparently, Wimbledon was Mauresmo's re-introduction to the big-time stage of women's tennis. If her head is now something other than a generally useless appendage to her game, she could make much noise down the stretch of 2002.

=December 23, 2002: Intriguing Question Recap=

WHAT I SAID THEN: "Mauresmo will always be perceived as a threat going into most slams, but that talk always comes equipped with a qualifying rider that goes something like, 'if she can ever get it together and win a big match.' The choker label will continue to trail behind her like a homesick puppy, and she won't be able to shake it in 2002."
...Mauresmo, with a new coach who brought out the best in her, advanced to both the Wimbledon & US Open SF and won the Tier I in Montreal for her biggest title to date.

December: 2003 Intriguing Question: Was Amelie Mauresmo's '02 big event success just another teasing flash in the pan?

February 10: Round and Round, Round by Round
May 5: Amelie Day
November 24: The Russians Played Routlette, and Mauresmo was the Bullet

May 17: Mademoiselle Opportunity?
August 9: Hail Maria, Still Full of Grace?
December 24: 2005 Intriguing Question: Will Amelie Mauresmo's "Grand Slam Gambit" Be a Success"

February 21: Random Spins
October 20: 2005 Intriguing Answers: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way...
November 8: How Smart We Were/How Dumb We Were (+ SEC '05)

January 22: Australian Open Day 7: Amelie & Nicole - For Which One Will It Be Apples?
January 28: Australian Oopen Day 13: Amelie Clicks Her Heels
January 29: 2006 Dorothy Tour Awards - On Ya, Mates
February 13: Amelie & the Belgian Offensive
February 20: Woman of a Thousand Faces
May 31: Roland Garros Day 4: No Pigeons, But a Healthy Helping of French Dressing
July 8: Wimbledon Day 12: She is Risen
July 10: 2006 Grass Court Awards
November 7: 2006 Intriguing Answers: A Tale of Two Champions
November 18: Ms.Backspin '06
November 25: 2006 WTA Yearbook

January 10: Intriguing Questions '07: Will It Be Amelie vs. Justine, Part Deux?
February 20: now for All. (Antwerp)
July 3: Wimbledon Day 8: Here We Go Again

May 27: Roland Garros Day 3: Amelie's Last Stand?

February 16: The French Way
November 8: Decade's Best: Players #6-10

She will be missed. Unfortunately, all for now.