Mauresmo faces final against the clay queen

Allez la France, allez les francophones. On a weekend when Les Bleus will hope to win the World Cup final by beating Italy, two French speakers will contest the women's singles title here tomorrow. Amélie Mauresmo, who had celebrated her 27th birthday on Wednesday by watching her country's footballers reach Sunday's final, will face Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne, who will be hoping to become only the 10th woman to complete a full set of Grand Slam crowns.

Mauresmo, who had lost her three previous semi-finals here and has so often frozen on the big occasion, reached her second Grand Slam final of the year by beating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Henin-Hardenne beat Kim Clijsters, her fellow countrywoman, 6-4, 7-6.

The delight of Mauresmo was there for all to see as she celebrated her victory over Sharapova by leaping in the air and throwing her racket into the crowd. The world No 1 has suffered repeated disappointments over the years, particularly at the French Open, where she regularly starts as the favourite but has usually crumbled under the weight of expectation.

Henin-Hardenne, who has won the French Open three times and is the acknowledged queen of clay, reached her first Grand Slam final here five years ago, when she lost to Venus Williams. The Belgian, who has won five Grand Slam titles in total, reached two subsequent singles semi-finals at the All England Club, but was knocked out in the first round last year.

Mauresmo has lost five of her previous nine meetings with Henin-Hardenne, including the 2004 Olympic final in Athens and their most recent encounter, when the Frenchwoman won only three games in their semi-final in Berlin.

It will be their first meeting on grass, but their second in a Grand Slam final. Mauresmo won in the Australian Open final earlier this year, but the occasion was soured when Henin-Hardenne, complaining of stomach pains after taking anti-inflammatory tablets for an injured shoulder, retired at a set and 2-0 down. Many observers felt that Henin-Hardenne had denied Mauresmo her full moment of glory as she won her first Grand Slam title.

When reminded of the occasion Henin-Hardenne said yesterday: "I want to think about myself and another opportunity to win another Grand Slam and win Wimbledon for the first time, not think about what happened a few months ago. The situation is different." Mauresmo said bluntly: "I really think this final is going to be about tennis. That's what I want it to be."

The world No 1 beat Sharapova by playing bold and aggressive tennis, following in her serve and showing superb touch on her volleys. Mauresmo made the crucial break in the eighth game of the first set and seemed in control at 3-1 up in the second until Sharapova, at last finding accuracy to go with the ferocious power of her groundstrokes, suddenly pulled her game together to win five games in a row.

With Mauresmo serving two double-faults in successive games, it seemed that her nerve might fail on the big stage once again, but she held serve from 0-30 down at the start of the second set and immediately broke Sharapova in a tense game of five deuces. One wonderful running backhand winner even drew applause from Sharapova's father, Yuri.

From 4-0 down Sharapova recovered to 4-2 and had a point for 4-3, which Mauresmo saved with an ace. Sharapova, who has not reached the final of a Grand Slam tournament since winning the title here two years ago, lost the game when she hit a lob long and her chance was gone.

"I felt I played very well tactically today and throughout the tournament," Mauresmo said. "My game is different from what other girls play on grass, so maybe it makes it a little bit difficult for my opponent. She has to adjust every time and play a winner or passing shot almost every time."

The rivalry between Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters goes back to when they first met in a tournament in Ostend at the ages of nine and eight respectively. They have both held the upper hand at different stages of their careers but Henin-Hardenne has a clear advantage. She has won 12 of their 22 matches as senior professionals, including eight of the last 11 and three in a row in the last month.

After Henin-Hardenne's recent victories in Paris and Eastbourne, Clijsters seemed to lack the confidence to capitalise on the breakthroughs that she engineered yesterday, making too many unforced errors and failing to come to terms with her opponent's excellent serve. Henin-Hardenne's defence was as strong as ever but she also attacked when the opportunity arose, even coming into the net behind her better approaches.

Clijsters broke to lead 4-3 in the first set but immediately handed back the advantage in the following game, dropping her serve with three successive unforced errors. Two games later she presented the set to Henin-Hardenne on a plate when she lost her serve to love after a double-fault, two long backhands and a long forehand.

In the second set Clijsters twice went a break up, only for Henin-Hardenne to break back and level at 3-3 and 6-6. Henin-Hardenne made the first move in the tie-break when Clijsters netted an easy forehand winner and converted her first match point by whipping a glorious backhand return winner across court. No wonder John McEnroe has called her sumptuous one-handed backhand the greatest shot in men's or women's tennis.

The relationship between the two Belgians rarely warms beyond grudging respect and their handshake at the net could best be described as perfunctory. When she trailed early in the second set, Henin-Hardenne, who has been accused of gamesmanship in the past, started coughing in the middle of a Clijsters service game (which Henin-Hardenne subsequently won) and took a short break for a drink.

Clijsters was asked whether she thought her opponent had deliberately slowed the match down at key moments. "Yes, but she's not the only player who does that on the tour," she said. "You just don't let it bother you. You just try to go to the back of the court and focus on what you have to do."

* Britain's Andy Murray last night confirmed that he wants the American Brad Gilbert as his new coach. "It is not a done deal, but I have spoken to Brad," Murray said. "He's got a very good record as a coach and is somebody I'd like to work with." Murray hopes to have Gilbert in place before the Toronto Masters Series tournament on 7 August.

Yesterday at Wimbledon

* Second seed Rafael Nadal beat Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals and a meeting with Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.

* Amélie Mauresmo reached her first Wimbledon final - where she will meet Justine Henin-Hardenne - beating Maria Sharapova.

* Martina Navratilova left SW19 for the last time, having failed to break the titles record. She lost in both the women's doubles and the mixed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: David Gilmour and his novelist wife and lyricist Polly Samson
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines