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Friday, January 27, 2006
Updated: January 31, 5:08 PM ET
Mauresmo wins first Slam when opponent retires

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- After seven frustrating years, Amelie Mauresmo has her first Grand Slam singles title.

The conclusion, however, was a bit anticlimactic.

Mauresmo's long wait ended Saturday when Justine Henin-Hardenne retired in the second set of their Australian Open final because of stomach pain.

Amelie Mauresmo
Seven years after reaching her first, and only Grand Slam final, Mauresmo finally claimed her first major title.

Mauresmo led 6-1, 2-0 when Henin-Hardenne walked to the net and told the umpire she could not continue. Suddenly a champion, Mauresmo was taken aback for a few moments. She consoled Henin-Hardenne, then took her time to walk back onto the court and hold her arms up in triumph.

"Walking back to my chair, I realized the tournament was mine," Mauresmo said. "I guess the way I reacted would have been different if the match went to the end. But the joy is here … I've been waiting for this a long time."

The third-seeded Mauresmo translated a French expression to sum up the quick finish.

"In French, we have a saying: The sadness of some makes the happiness of others," she said. "Things turn around at some point. I had some tough moments myself."

The doubters increased as Mauresmo, who previously held the No. 1 ranking and had long been a contender, had failed to reach a final since losing the 1999 title match at Melbourne Park to Martina Hingis.

"A lot of people were saying, 'She's not going to get there,' talking about Grand Slams," Mauresmo said.

In the first set against Henin-Hardenne, she said she put "the emotion part really on the side."

"I knew exactly what I had to do … and everything came together," she said. "The three main things of the game -- tennis, physical and mental -- they all come together perfectly."

Mauresmo planned to celebrate by opening a 1937 bottle of wine she bought three or four years ago and was saving to drink at the right moment.

It was the second consecutive match and third in the tournament that an opponent retired due to illness or injury against Mauresmo.

Michaella Krajicek retired with heat stress in the third round and second-seeded Kim Clijsters retired after turning her ankle early in the third set of their semifinal on Thursday.

Justine Henin-Hardenne
Henin-Hardenne, who retired in the second set, lost in the final of a Grand Slam for only the second time.

Retirements in Grand Slam finals are rare.

Margaret Court Smith won an Australian Open title in 1965 when Maria Bueno retired in the third set with an injured ankle. She won by walkover the following year when Nancy Richey withdrew before the final.

Mauresmo said she had experienced some dark moments in Australia, including the controversy surrounding her run to the final in '99 when she was described as "half a man" by Hingis. Critics had condemned her as a choker at the big moments.

But things started turning around for her when she won the season-ending WTA Championship in Los Angeles last November, giving her renewed hope in Australia.

"Winning the WTA Championship and coming back and winning here, too -- I feel great. I'm proud of myself," she said. "Winning in L.A. gave me a lot of confidence."

Mauresmo had the third-longest wait for her first major title in the Open era, taking 32 Grand Slam tournaments to win a final.

Jana Novotna won Wimbledon in her 45th major and Kerry Melville-Reid won the Australian Open in her 39th.

"It's been such a long time, and yet I still don't know what to say," Mauresmo told the crowd. "All the people that still believed in me, after seven years -- it's a long time. Not only myself, but people who're working with me, believed me and pushed me, even when I was down.

"Maybe we found the way, maybe we'll try to keep going."

Henin-Hardenne, seeded eighth, held for the only time in the sixth game, losing the first set in 33 minutes on consecutive forehand errors. She got only 29 percent of her first serves in.

Mauresmo broke serve and then held again before Henin-Hardenne called for the trainer. She lost two more points before retiring.

"I was feeling so sick and I couldn't stay longer on the court," Henin-Hardenne said. "I'm feeling very disappointed to end the tournament this way.

"I'm sorry I couldn't find a little bit more."

Henin-Hardenne, who has four Grand Slam singles titles and was on a 13-match winning streak at Melbourne Park, burst into tears when she reached a courtside chair after quitting.

Storms outside produced the only thunder of the match. The roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena, trapping several birds inside, and they chirped loudly throughout.

Henin-Hardenne had been a slow starter in the last two rounds, dropping the first set against Lindsay Davenport in the quarterfinals and Maria Sharapova in the semis before rallying.

It looked to be the same against Mauresmo as the Belgian lost 19 of the first 24 points, committing a rash of mistakes.

Mauresmo fended off the only breakpoint she faced to make it 5-0 before Henin-Hardenne held serve for the only time, sparking a loud ovation.

But as the match wore on, Mauresmo seemed to sense that her opponent was off her game or ill. She was increasingly content just to keep the ball in play until Henin-Hardenne made a mistake.

There were only nine combined winners in the nine games and 31 unforced errors, 20 by Henin-Hardenne.