Mauresmo relishes opportunity of upset

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The Independent Online

There are two ways of looking at today's semi-final between Serena Williams and Amélie Mauresmo. The first is to say Mauresmo is playing nowhere near the level needed to trouble the defending champion; the second is that she is champing at the bit to face a player who will fully test her.

There are two ways of looking at today's semi-final between Serena Williams and Amélie Mauresmo. The first is to say Mauresmo is playing nowhere near the level needed to trouble the defending champion; the second is that she is champing at the bit to face a player who will fully test her.

Certainly the Frenchwoman's 6-0, 5-7, 6-1 win yesterday over the deceptively dangerous Argentinian Paola Suárez lends weight to the latter view. At times Mauresmo was highly impressive, but her ability to go walkabout in the middle of matches is reminiscent of another fluent player who frequently failed to do herself justice, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.

At least the Australian won Wimbledon twice. With her 25th birthday just four days away, Mauresmo has yet to win once, nor indeed any major title, and until she does, the mental frailties that give every opponent hope will continue to accompany her. Many a player has found a 6-0 first set a mixed blessing, but Mauresmo should have killed off her quarter-final much earlier than the 102 minutes it took. In the first 10 games her backhand slice was causing immense problems for Suárez, and Mauresmo's athleticism at the net bore the hallmarks of a woman in form.

In fairness, she was assisted by a nervous start by Suárez, who seemed intent on repeating her French Open semi-final four weeks ago when she was beaten more by her nerves than by Elena Dementieva.

Unsurprisingly, the Argentinian eventually got into the match - what was surprising was that Mauresmo played right into her hands by getting involved in long baseline rallies that could only benefit the underdog. "I think I went down a bit physically," Mauresmo said, "I wasn't moving as well, so then I wasn't taking the opportunities." That can happen, but it doesn't explain why Mauresmo stopped coming to the net. The attacking strategy that worked so well for her in beating Jennifer Capriati in the quarter-finals here two years ago seemed to disappear, and Suárez was allowed an easy ride.

The match was always likely to turn back the Frenchwoman's way, as Suárez's level could only go down after taking the second set. But part of the turnaround came from Mauresmo realising that the forehand wing of Suárez was the weaker one, and at the start of the decider she began peppering the forehand. It instantly paid dividends and when Suárez let an innocuous shot from Mauresmo drop inside her baseline for a 2-0 lead, the Frenchwoman had a foot in the semi-finals.

Her five performances here don't suggest a potential champion, but for her the real competition begins today. By rights Williams should be too good, but when a grinning Mauresmo said: "I think I'll have some fun", there was a quiet confidence that may be justified. Few doubt her ability. Today she has the chance to show it against the best grasscourt player in the world and she seems to be relishing her opportunity.

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