|01-28-2006, 05:33 PM||#1|
Henin-Hardenne quits to dampen Mauresmo's triumph
Sunday January 29, 2006
If she had not been hitting the ball with clean, nerveless authority, one could say that Amelie Mauresmo's long-awaited entry into grand-slam champion's circle after 11 years and much frustration on the tour was somehow diminished by good fortune.
But, given the circumstances, that would be churlish. At the end, she was standing; the other player wasn't. That luck was not with Justine Henin- Hardenne, who retired at 6-1 2-0 down as the rain splattered on the closed roof of Rod Laver Arena, is undeniable.
The Belgian, who has suffered more in her personal life than most players, called the WTA trainer at 0-2 in the second set and said she was feeling ill. She had been taking anti-inflammatory pills for several days and had been up frequently during the night. 'My stomach hurt and my legs felt weak,' she said. She returned for two more points, made two more mistakes, and quit.
Mauresmo looked as stunned as the 15,000 spectators.
While her opponent buried her head in a towel, the Frenchwoman walked over to her coaches, Loic Courteau and Georges Goven, with a bemused smile on her face and shook hands. One felt almost as sorry for her, being denied total euphoria at this long-awaited moment, as for Henin-Hardenne.
In a country that tries to live by one of the fundamental rules of sport - if you walk on court you are fit to play - it did not take long for tough questions to be asked. Why couldn't Henin-Hardenne have finished the match? Her stomach was not acting up so badly that she needed to leave the court.
She just sat there, weeping. When asked about this, she said: 'Everyone has a right to think that [I should have finished the match]. But it's my health. I just have to think about myself right now. It's me that was feeling the bad way I was. I don't care what these people would say.
Accepting her evaluation of how the match had gone was, however, more difficult. Neither Mauresmo, nor any of us watching, noticed any physical disability in Henin-Hardenne's game during the first set. She was making more errors than usual, certainly, but that could easily be put down to her opponent's clever and perfectly executed tactics.
Mauresmo kept Henin-Hardenne on the move in rallies and continually asked this 5ft 5in player to deal with top-spun balls that bounced high on the rubberised surface. Henin-Hardenne insisted she was not moving properly and had no power in her shots. Was there any suspicion of this on Mauresmo's part? 'Not for me,' she said emphatically. 'Not for me.' So let's just say bad luck to the loser and take a look at what this means for women's tennis.
The Williams sisters are distracted; Lindsay Davenport is a fading force; Anastasia Myskina a shadow of the woman who won the French Open two years ago; and Maria Sharapova is still just short of repeating the kind of breakthrough she made at Wimbledon in 2004.
Along with the injury-prone Kim Clijsters, this makes Mauresmo the one to watch in the coming year. How much effect all that had on a fragile temperament when it came to playing big matches it is difficult to judge.
This may now change. 'I think, to be honest, I'm also here because I won in Los Angeles,' said the 26- year-old, referring to her win at the WTA world championships last November. 'It was not a grand slam but I proved to myself that I was capable of winning a big one against the greatest players.' Psychologically that is a major breakthrough and, even if luck was with her here - both Michaella Krajicek and Clijsters could also not last the distance against her in blistering conditions - the field was the strongest ever for a grand slam with all the world's top 20 present at the start.
And that included another record - 11 former grand-slam champions. You need more than luck to find a path through that kind of quality opposition. Mauresmo even had to overcome a physical problem of her own that, in a strange way, gave her added confidence.
On the day of her match against the powerful young Czech Nicole Vaidisova, she woke up with a stiff neck. 'I couldn't move my neck at all so I had to use different things to get around it. That helped me mentally. I realised I could use other things to overcome something like that. I think it helped in later rounds.' Mauresmo won that match 6-1 6-1. She may never look back.