Amélie Mauresmo, three times a bridesmaid, or more accurately a semi-finalist here, scaled the staircases and benches of Centre Court to kiss and embrace friends and family and finally catch the bouquet. The 26-year-old Frenchwoman lost her first service game and with it the set and then set about rewriting a little bit of Wimble-don history.
Her three-set arc de triomphe over Justine Henin-Hardenne made her the first French winner here in 81 years, although she has some way to go to match the extraordinary Suzanne Lenglen. The year after the end of the First World War Lenglen began her monopoly, winning five singles titles in a row. She missed out on 1924 and won her sixth championship in 1925. In 1926, the year of the general strike, she became the first lady tennis player to turn professional, earned the nickname of La Divine and nine years ago had a court named after her at Stade Roland Garros, the home of the French Open, which was named not after a French champion but an aviator.
"I still can't believe it," Mauresmo said a couple of hours after the match. "I didn't expect this. I wasn't feeling great but all of a sudden everything came together and at Wimbledon this was so special. This is the most prestigious tournament in the world. I've had to wait so long between Grand Slam finals and then I get two in the same year. There have been some tough moments but I always thought I could make it. This is very sweet. I know much more now about how to handle my nerves and play Grand Slam tennis. I've learnt from experience."
There were doubts about whether Mauresmo, who has been so close here so many times, could soar to new heights, especially against an opponent as tough and resilient as the Belgian. "She played better than me and she was too good today," Henin said. "I'm pretty tired and it's been a couple of very good weeks for me. I'll be back and I'll get my chance another time. I'm very positive."
Henin went into Wimbledon winning the French Open and then on grass at Eastbourne, which seemed the perfect preparation. However, at the sedate Sussex resort Mauresmo, the No 1 seed there as well as here, lost her first match and concentrated on Wimbledon, where she opened with a 6-0 6-0 victory.
Yesterday she had to work far harder for her second Grand Slam title, the first coming in Australia earlier this year.
Tonight she will attend the ball and dance with the winner of today's men's final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but not before watching the World Cup final between France and Italy.
"I don't know what time the ball is," Mauresmo said, which is understandable considering it's never been in her diary. But she knows what time France kick off and it will be all over before the first dance.
Henin has been so successful she has played five of the last six weeks and last night she admitted, without trying to take anything from her opponent, that she was feeling drained. "I'm very tired but I have no regrets," she said. "I don't think I was fresh enough to win this match and I'm feeling it emotionally, mentally and physically."
Henin, three years younger than her opponent, said beforehand that she had changed her approach to Wimbledon, where her record was very good without being the stuff of champions. After losing in the final here to Venus Williams in 2001, she said she was intimidated and slightly overawed. She resolved to work on her fitness and be more aggressive.
Even so, Henin admitted that after winning the first set: "I wasn't aggressive enough after that and the match turned completely. Amélie kept serving well and took more opportunities than me. She was more consistent on her serve. This is a bit hard to take but I need to accept it and move on." She needs to do an Amélie.
"My serve and volley game wasn't working too well in the first set but I pumped myself up at the beginning of the second set and everything was totally different," Mauresmo said.Reuse content