Anonymity helps Amélie to help herself

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The Independent Online

Amelie Mauresmo possesses broad, well-defined shoulders, and she needs them. When the gifts bestowed include strength, athleticism and an all-court game, much is anticipated of a tennis player. But the expectation has proved crushing in the past for the Frenchwoman.

Amelie Mauresmo possesses broad, well-defined shoulders, and she needs them. When the gifts bestowed include strength, athleticism and an all-court game, much is anticipated of a tennis player. But the expectation has proved crushing in the past for the Frenchwoman.

Mauresmo's latest collapse occurred in the quarter-finals of her domestic Grand Slam, in which she not so much froze against Elena Dementieva, but went solid, cracked and ended up as ice cubes on the Roland Garros clay.

The pressure continued when the woman who will be 25 on Monday was nominated pre-Wimbledon as a potential winner by both Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade. Yet Mauresmo has not crumpled this fortnight.

Indeed, she has crept under the radar and into the quarter-finals without losing a set, the latest episode being yesterday's 7-5, 6-3 success over Italy's Silvia Farina Elia.

The burden of home territory does not apply in SW19 and Mauresmo is not drowning in intensity. "I'm dealing a little better with that here because, of course, the attention is not on me," she said yesterday. "A lot of it is on Tim and most of it is on the Williams sisters on the women's side. Maybe I will have to talk to him to see how he handles the pressure here to help me at the French."

The fourth-round match yesterday was on Court Two, the supposed graveyard - fairly pertinent as Mauresmo's opponent also has a reputation for digging holes for herself.

Farina Elia was the greybeard of the tournament survivors at 32, but appears to be ageing as pleasantly as a good Barolo. Last year's quarter-final achievement in her 12th Wimbledon was her first in a Grand Slam at the 40th time of asking.

The momentum was all with Mauresmo from the outset. The serve was powerful and strapping on her right thigh did not compromise flowing movement around the court. A jaunty, skipping return to the baseline followed every successful volley.

Yet there was also the frustration of Gallic inconsistency. Mauresmo owns all the right shots, but plenty of the wrong ones as well. Her principal weakness yesterday was pressing too hard, which manifested itself in overhitting.

At 5-6, Farina Elia came to the rescue with a losing service game riven with nerves. That precipitated an Italian surrender, maybe not of Sidi Barrani proportions, but enough to change the course of the game. Mauresmo won five consecutive games on the bridge between the first and second sets and the match petered out on serve.

The No 4 seed was a semi-finalist here in 2002, when she lost to Serena Williams, who is again lurking. That was a first journey past the third round, though Mauresmo now considers herself a more potent weapon for familiarisation with grass.

"I've been feeling pretty good [since] a couple of years ago when I came to the semis," she said. "Again this year I have a pretty good feeling and a good sensation on this surface. It took me a few years to understand how to play on this surface and now I'm starting to feel comfortable. I'm serving pretty well and I'm pretty consistent going forward to the net to volley. I'm enjoying myself doing that."

At the end, the winner threw her sweatband into the stands and reciprocated the light applause from the crowd. That level of support is just about right for her.

Today, Mauresmo plays Paola Suarez of Argentina, a semi-finalist at the French Open, who beat another Italian in Rita Grande 4-6, 6-0, 6-2. The shoulders again will be a help, maybe especially the left one, which bears a tattoo of an angel.

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