Mauresmo wins Wimbledon for first time

Updated: July 9, 2006, 1:09 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

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

Amelie Mauresmo
Phil Cole/Getty ImagesAmelie Mauresmo settled down after losing the first set 6-2.

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?

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.

Women Who Have Won
The Career Grand Slam
Player Grand Slams won
Margaret Court Smith 24
Steffi Graf 22
Chris Evert 18
Martina Navratilova 18
Billie Jean King 12
Maureen Connolly 9
Serena Williams 7
Doris Hart 6
Shirley Fry 4

"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.

Odds are there will be far less serve-and-volley tennis in the men's final than there was Saturday, when some points finished with both players at the net.

Mauresmo won the toss, elected to serve and promptly got broken. Henin-Hardenne broke again for a 5-2 lead, then punctuated the set with her lone ace.

At the ensuing changeover, Mauresmo thought to herself: "You're 6-2 down against Justine in the final of a Grand Slam. You're not in such a great position."

And then she summoned up the strength to turn things around.

"I pumped myself up. I let it out a little bit. I yelled a little bit," she said. "I was much more aggressive right from the beginning of that second set."

That she was, claiming 13 of the next 17 points as Henin-Hardenne began to waver.

Perhaps because of the swirling wind, the second set contained little topflight tennis. The unforced errors were so plentiful, it was if both women were trying to smack the ball with skillets instead of rackets.

Mauresmo put in only 39 percent of her first serves in that set, and Henin-Hardenne was completely off, a star suddenly without her strokes -- like the lead actress in a Shakespeare production forgetting her lines.

"I wasn't playing my best tennis, far from that," the third-ranked Henin-Hardenne said. "That's the kind of day that happens."

The Belgian botched one serve so badly it bounced before reaching the net. She missed forehands by 5 feet. She didn't produce a backhand winner from the baseline all match.

Still, Henin-Hardenne broke to 4-3 thanks to three miscues by Mauresmo. Time for Mauresmo to crack? Hardly. She broke back for a 5-3 edge with a running cross-court forehand. Henin-Hardenne watched the ball fly by and cracked her racket on the court.

Mauresmo faced three break points in the next game, but saved each, then ended the set with a 111 mph ace, snapping Henin-Hardenne's 27-set Grand Slam winning streak.

Momentum hers, Mauresmo broke for a 2-1 lead in the final set, making things simple: Hold serve four times, and the Wimbledon championship would be hers.

She did it in style, winning 16 of the final 21 points she served. Steady as can be. Well, mostly steady. There was still the matter of winning the final point.

She tossed the ball to serve, but something wasn't right, so she caught it. Then she faulted.

"I was a little bit nervous on the match point," Mauresmo said, laughing, "which is probably understandable."

After a couple of deep breaths, she tapped in a 73 mph serve, then hung in until Henin-Hardenne dumped a forehand in the net. Mauresmo fell to her knees and raised her arms, the first Frenchwoman to win Wimbledon since Suzanne Lenglen in 1925.

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

This was the first time since 1971 that the Wimbledon final featured the winners of the year's first two Grand Slams.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.