AMELIE Mauresmo cherished the moment for a second and then lifted the greatest prize in women’s tennis high into the air.
“I don’t want anybody to talk about my nerves anymore,” smiled the new Wimbledon champion as she finally held the silver gilt Venus Rosewater Dish in her hands after a tense 2-6 6-3 6-4 triumph.
There were no complaints from defeated Belgian Justine Henin Hardenne, who lost the three set final in two hours and two minutes. “She just played better than me. She was just too good,” said the No 3 seed.
Tears flowed after the last point as the world number one sank to her knees and held her face in her hands. She then followed the now traditional path through the crowd to the player’s box, where she embraced her coach Loic Counteau. The elation – and relief – was clear.
Mauresmo, who was 27 on Wednesday, started badly. She lost her serve in the first game and was struggling to relax. Within 31 minutes the set was lost. It included seven unforced errors from the Frenchwoman.
But she overcame her nerves in the second set, as Henin-Hardenne’s own game began to falter. After one losing point, Justine threw her racket to the ground in disgust.
Watched in the royal box by former ladies’ singles champions, including Virginia Wade and Margaret Court, Mauresmo served out the set with her fourth ace to take it 6-3.
The tension continued on both sides of the net in the third and final set, before the woman hoping for a French double in tomorrow’s World Cup Final found herself serving for the championship at 5-4. Two more aces helped her clinch the championship, and a place in history.
At the winner’s press conference, I asked Amelie if she could recall her thoughts immediately after the final point. “No thoughts, just living the emotion, just going through the adrenaline, just enjoy the moment, and starting to think, ‘Okay, that’s it, this is over, this is it. I’m the one coming out of this court as a winner.’ So that’s very special.”
A disappointed Justine admitted she had felt tired after playing for five of the last six weeks, including two grand slams. “I played a solid first set and then lost a little bit of my concentration on a few points. There is nothing to say. She took more opportunities than me.”
Like the fine wine she collects at home, Amelie has improved with age. “It seems that I finally found how to handle the nerves a bit better,” she beamed. “I was a little bit nervous on the match point, which is probably understandable.
“I still can’t believe it. It’s very sweet. It’s the most prestigious tournament in the world. It really is a special moment for me.”