Mauresmo feels the home fire

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Imagine the pressure Tim Henman has been under in recent years to deliver for Britain at Wimbledon. Double that, and you have some idea what French players, men and women, face as they tread the tomato-coloured clay of Roland Garros in search of glory for the homeland.

Mary Pierce did it in Millennium Year, but the purists who flock to this Gallic Grand Slam regard Mary, born in Canada and raised in the United States, as not quite French, even if they do call her "Marie". Before that it was Françoise Durr, back in 1967, who last won for France.

Pierce, the runner-up in 2005, has withdrawn this year because of a foot injury, but on paper and going by the gospel known as the ranking system, France has more than a chance this time with the world No 1, Amélie Mauresmo, holder of the Australian Open.

Mauresmo first played Roland Garros aged 15 in 1995 and this will be her 12th bid. Yet the best she has been able to summon in 11 attempts so far is a couple of quarter-finals (2003 and 2004). Last year she took on the charismatic Yannick Noah (the men's winner in 1983) as coach-adviser - and went out in the third round.

Now, she feels, she is ready to cope with that avalanche of expectation. "The pressure is here, no question about that," she said on Friday afternoon at a media conference in the national tennis museum in the grounds of Roland Garros. "But I feel different from the other years, when it was a bit of a struggle for me. Since the Australian Open [her first Grand Slam title] I have been looking at things differently, and I am hoping that will help me."

Having begun her chat by falling spectacularly off her chair, demolishing the piece of furniture but surviving undamaged, Mauresmo already has fortune in her corner. So perhaps this will be her year.