Mauresmo idles through under gaze of invited idols
On the 40th anniversary of the first colour transmission on British television - the first day of the 1967 Wimbledon championships - a curiously muted, colourless match was served up on Centre Court by the defending women's champion Amélie Mauresmo, seeded four, and the 28th seed Mara Santangelo.
Mauresmo won easily enough, 6-1, 6-2 in under an hour, but in less emphatic style than her male counterpart, Roger Federer, the evening before. She will have to raise her game against her probable next opponent, Nicole Vaidisova, although Santangelo did not offer much of a challenge. You can only beat what's in front of you.
It was as if the miserable weather - it had been alternately drizzling and bucketing down from early morning until mid-afternoon - had dampened the spirits of both players and most of the crowd. There were a few desultory cries of "Allez, Amélie!" but even the great enthusiast himself, Sir Bobby Robson, sitting in the front row of the Royal Box, looked less than engrossed.
It has become traditional on Middle Saturday to invite sporting heroes to sit in the Royal Box. Indeed, footballing Sir Bobbies alone made up almost 10 per cent of the front row. Sir Bobby Charlton sat bang in the middle; in fact, the Duke of Kent appeared to have deferred to him by moving along a bit, as well he should. Earlier, on BBC television, Sue Barker had tried gamely to move the wet-weather coverage along with archive sequences and musical montages. The pick of the fillers was an interview with the 1947 champion Jack Kramer, now 85, who recalled that the final that year was held up for 15 minutes because King George VI had been delayed in traffic.
Sports stars are the new royalty, of course, and also on the guest list were Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Dame Kelly Holmes, Jonathan Edwards, Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade, Clive Lloyd, Beth Tweddle, Bernard Gallacher, and, erm, Dawn French, whose sporting achievements, one suspects, are limited to putting the Terry's Chocolate Orange.
As for the tennis, Mauresmo never looked anything but a sure thing. At 1-4 and 30-15 in the first set, with just a sniff of a chance of getting back into contention, her Italian opponent missed a volley at the net that Kramer even now could have put away in his sleep. So could Dawn French, probably. It was a surprise, because Santangelo won the doubles at the French Open this year and could hardly have done so without sharp reflexes at the net, but at the same time it was perhaps her doubles pedigree that made her land the ball in the tramlines so often.
Whatever, the miss clearly rattled her - she followed it with a double-fault, lost the game, and moments later Mauresmo wrapped up the set with a 113mph ace.
The champion unleashed 11 aces in all, but none faster than that one. Most were slower, achieved with direction and placement rather than raw power.
She will take great heart from that, likewise from a stunning bit of athleticism to save a break point when serving for the match at 5-2 in the second set. Responding to a delicate drop shot, a rare piece of guile by Santangelo, Mauresmo scampered from the back of the court and somehow conjured an exquisitely angled winner. The crowd including both Sir Bobbies, applauded long and hard. Mauresmo, who underwent appendix surgery in March, must have been quietly delighted.
With Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova in her half of the draw, she knows the second week will test her to the limit. Her limit, however, is less easily reached than it used to be. The uncertainty caused by the bad weather, she said afterwards, would once have played havoc with her head.
"My experience nowadays helps me to avoid being stressed out when I am not able to play," she said, adding that she intends, even against committed baseliners, to persist with her natural serve-and-volley game. "It worked for me last year so I'm not going to change anything."
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