Seven years ago, as a callow 19-year-old, Amélie Mauresmo reached the final of the Australian Open, prompting many to hail her as a new rising star. But she never quite fulfilled her promise, playing in four Grand Slam semi-finals but losing on each occasion since then.
Tomorrow, on the same court, she will finally get the chance to prove she can go as far as everyone predicted. But the No 3 seed will have to conquer her own doubts as well as Justine Henin-Hardenne, who beat Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the other semi-final yesterday.
The manner in which Mauresmo - who lost to Martina Hingis in 1999 - achieved her breakthrough was bitter-sweet, for at one set all, and just after the Frenchwoman had broken for a 3-2 lead, Kim Clijsters, the No 2 seed, retired injured. The Belgian world No 1 had fallen and twisted her ankle when Mauresmo hit the ball behind her to achieve the break. Clijsters received treatment during the change-over and came out for the next game with the ankle heavily taped. But she could play only one more point.
It was deeply disappointing for Clijsters, who had surprised herself by getting so far after injuring her hip at the Sydney warm-up tournament.
Having lost the second set, she said, "I was starting to hit the ball cleaner again". Then she fell over. "It's frustrating."
She can, perhaps, console herself with the knowledge that the tennis in both semi-finals was outstanding.
Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004, played a clever and aggressive game to take the first set. But Henin-Hardenne, the No 8 seed and French Open champion, stayed cool, ran down every ball and had the edge in the second and third.
The 18-year-old Russian, whose striking outfits and on-court shrieking attract as much attention as her tennis, became irritated when asked how disappointed she was.
"Talk about the disappointment? Yeah, it's disappointing," she said. "Look, guys, I know you are reporters and I know this is your job, but take your notepads, take your pencils down, take your grunt-o-meters down, the fashion police, put everything away and just watch the match from the fans' perspective," she said.
While Mauresmo's talent has never been in doubt, she has suffered a string of injuries in recent years, and her self-belief has sometimes faltered. But after her 5-7, 6-2, 3-2 (retired) win, she said: "I don't want to stop there. I want to give it 100 per cent on Saturday and really try to get that trophy."
The Frenchwoman, who won four titles last year including the season-ending championships in Los Angeles, took a while to find her rhythm, and - with the roof of Rod Laver Arena closed because of the heat - to get used to playing indoors.
But Henin-Hardenne has won four of their seven previous matches, including the last two.
"I know it's going to be a tough one," Mauresmo said. "We both want the title. We're both going to fight for it."
Australian Open results
Semi-finals: M Baghdatis (Cyp) bt D NALBANDIAN (Arg) 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 6-4.
Semi-finals: J HENIN-HARDENNE (Bel) bt M SHARAPOVA (Rus) 4-6 6-1 6-4; A MAURESMO (Fr) bt K CLIJSTERS (Bel) 5-7 6-2 3-2 ret.
Semi-finals: B BRYAN and M BRYAN (US) bt P HANLEY (Aus) and K ULLYETT (Zim) 6-3 6-4; M DAMM (Cz Rep) and L PAES (Ind) bt M Fyrstenberg and M Matkowski (Pol) 6-2 6-4.
Quarter-finals: L Paes (Ind) and N Dechy (Fr) bt F Cermak (Cz Rep) and A-L Grönefeld (Ger) 6-1 7-6; P HANLEY and S STOSUR (Aus) bt M BRYAN and C MORARIU (US) 7-6 4-6 7-6; M Bhupathi (Ind) and M Hingis (Swit) bt T PERRY and R STUBBS (Aus) 7-5 7-6.
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