Sunday, November 13, 2005

Amelie Mauresmo wins the WTA Tour Championships!

Every generation has a tennis player of such grace, it is a joy to watch her move on the court. In the 1950's, Maria Bueno had such a reputation. Later, it was Evonne Goolagong, perhaps the most graceful court mover of all time. She was followed by Hana Mandlikova, then Gabriela Sabatini. Now it is Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, the all-court player whose variety of shots and ability to move deftly around the court earned her the U.S. Open nickname, "The Artiste."

Unfortunately, that is not Mauresmo's only nickname. "Headcase" is the one we usually hear, along with "choker." As a die-hard Mauresmo fan, I have never given up on her, though I cringe every time she goes through another Grand Slam without winning. Tonight the tables turned. Though not a Grand Slam, the WTA Tour Championships are a very big deal, and Mauresmo won them by defeating Mary Pierce 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.

Oddly enough--considering her reputation--Mauresmo has an outstanding tiebreak record, and I wasn't too worried when the second set reached 6-all. In the third set, when Pierce was serving at 4-all, Mauresmo broke her to serve for the match. She immediately went to 0-40, hardly a formula for getting to match point, but she won five points in a row, winning the championship on her first ad point.

Big WTA finals are usually not very good; the quality action seems to take place in the semifinals, followed by a letdown. This year's Wimbledon was an exception, with Lindsay Davenport losing to Venus Williams in one of the big heart-breakers (for Davenport fans) of all time. Last night, Daveport's semifinal match with Pierce was also one of extremely high quality, with Davenport losing by a hair, 7-6, 7-6. Mauresmo beat defending champion Maria Sharapova in the other semifinal, setting up an all-French final. Pierce had already given Mauresmo her only tournament loss in the round robin; Mauresmo had beaten U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters and Russia's Elena Dementieva.

Just recently, Mauresmo was knocked out of two tournaments in the first round, and she told reporters she was so burned out, she didn't know if she could go on. There were rumors that she was withdrawing from the WTA Tour Championships. Instead, she entered the Advanta Championships in Philadelphia, and won the tournament for the third year straight. She arrived at the WTA Tour Championships with an aggression that her game has lacked, and with a clear head.

Mary Pierce, holder of two Grand Slam titles, has played amazing tennis this year, and was a finalist in two Grand Slams. Her service game is one of the best on the tour, she is a quick thinker, and she has great hands. The contest between the two Frenchwomen (who are close friends) was epic in nature--one for the books. Despite incredible play from Pierce, Mauresmo's heavy topspin, superb backhand, finely honed net skills, and tireless athleticism took her all the way. In the end, she overcame Pierce by going after everything thrown at her, and by turning many defensive plays into winners.

I hope this breakthrough frees Mauresmo to win a Grand Slam in 2006.



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