2001 Golf U.S. Open

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Au revoir, Nathalie

Tauziat bows out of Grand Slams with loss to Mauresmo

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Monday September 03, 2001 8:20 PM

By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

NEW YORK -- On a day that traditionally signifies summer's inevitable sputter into fall, all the attention converged on two players in their autumn years, Pat Rafter and Pete Sampras. As the two former champs played what was surely the most anticipated fourth-round encounter in recent memory, in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Nathalie Tauziat quietly competed in the final Grand Slam match of her memorable, 18-year career on an adjacent court.

When Tauziat drove a forehand wide on match point, falling to countrywoman Amelie Mauresmo in three sets, there may have been a few hundred fans in the stands of Louis Armstrong Stadium. "That's my regret this year," she said afterward. "It would have been nice to play one more time on the big court."

Tauziat's out-with-a-whimper match Monday marked a fitting end to an unsung career. One of the more remarkable stories on the WTA Tour, Tauziat was born in the Central African Republic, where her French father sold plumbing supplies. When the family returned to France, Tauziat's tennis talent became apparent. She commenced her career in 1984, when most of today's top players were toddlers, and achieved her highest ranking -- third in the world -- at the wizened age of 32.

It was great copy, but she and publicity never mingled well. Forever a fixture on the side courts, Tauziat was unable to compete with the glamour of her peers. When they were young and brash, she was older and more sage. While they wore revealing outfits, she was clad in frumpy whites. While they were wearing out mirrors, she was attending press conferences and sponsor functions with wet hair and sandals.

Even during the biggest moment of her career, her achievement was writ small. In 1998 Tauziat reached the Wimbledon final, losing to Jana Novotna; alas, it was the same weekend France won the World Cup, so her home nation scarcely noticed. Even her family was split, since her cousin, Didier Deschamps, was a star on the French team.

When Tauziat launched her career, she was a nondescript baseliner with no discernible weapons. A dozen or so years later, she and her coach, Regis de Camaret -- her mentor since she was 13 -- decided that in order to rise above being a marginal pro, Tauziat would need to revamp her style. In her mid-20s, when most players are unwilling to tinker in the smallest way with their games, she became an attacking serve-and-volleyer.

The style elevated her into a top-10 player; it's an address she still occupies today, two months shy of turning 34. "I knew that unless I wanted to stay at the same level, I would have to change," said Tauziat, as well known for her controversial book The Underside of Tennis as she was for her tennis. "I'm not a power player, but [attacking] was a way to change things, luckily for the better."

In that sense, Monday's match traced the same arc of her career. She began slowly against Mauresmo, losing the first set 6-0 in 18 unsightly minutes. Abruptly, Tauziat changed tactics and picked on Mauresmo's open-stance forehand, winning the second set 7-6. In the end, she fell short, running out of both energy and time. But she went down with a fight, staving off two match points before falling 6-3 in the third. "I had chances but didn't take them," said Tauziat, who might still compete in some doubles events next year. "That's what bothers me."

As she walked off the court of a Grand Slam for the 55th and final time -- 14 of them in New York -- Tauziat was strikingly devoid of nostalgia. "It's just another match," she said with a shrug. Happy that a countrywoman was advancing to the quarters, she wished Mauresmo luck.

By the time she had collected her belongings and headed to the locker room, only a few dozen indifferent fans remained in the stadium. Maneuvering unaccosted, perhaps unrecognized, from the court to the locker room for the last time at a major, Tauziat walked with her head high.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will file daily reports from Flushing Meadows. Click here to send a question to his Tennis Mailbag.

Related information
Sampras downs Rafter, will face Agassi
Jon Wertheim's Tennis Mailbag: Hingis' comments taken out of context
Sunday's On the Court: Seles comes up short again
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