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And so a question lingered about Mauresmo, too, as she cut through the Wimbledon draw: Did she truly have the will to win a Grand Slam final? She toughed out a three-set win over 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina in the quarterfinals, but in her semifinal against '04 Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova, after Mauresmo raced to a 6--3, 3--1 lead and then held three break points on Sharapova's serve, a near palpable fear rose off her broad shoulders. Sharapova won four straight games, and then Mauresmo double-faulted twice in a row. The tension was so thick that when Mauresmo won the next point, she shrieked in relief. Sharapova won the second set 6--3, but in the third Mauresmo was a different player, serving and volleying with ease, stylishly bulldozing Sharapova 6--2. "I kept fighting," Mauresmo said afterward. "In the third set I could have--how do you say?--let it go. Didn't happen."
That set up the second rematch everyone wanted to see at Wimbledon, after Federer-Nadal: a healthy Henin-Hardenne against the player who was chasing that Grand Slam match point, that celebration she never experienced in Melbourne. "You win that last point, it's something you feel," said nine-time Slam doubles champion Jonas Bjorkman after losing his semifinal match against Federer on Friday. "I will support Mauresmo because she deserves to win a final where she actually wins it."
In the end, appropriately, the women's title match came down to nerve. Stiffening when once she crumbled, Mauresmo found her game in the second set just as Henin-Hardenne began shooting wild flares with her forehand. In the third set Mauresmo's first serve kicked into championship gear, and she rode an early break to a 5--4 lead. She sat through the changeover knowing she had the title on her racket. But in perhaps the clearest sign of her newfound control over what she calls "the mental," Mauresmo didn't think of redemption, nor of her mixed feelings toward Henin-Hardenne. "It's in the past, and it was a totally different game and environment," she said of Australia. "On D day you have to perform--whatever happened before, whatever is going to happen after."
Two aces and a textbook serve-and-volley got her to match point at 40--30. After a let first serve, Mauresmo bounced the ball seemingly forever, tossed it up and, reconsidering the delivery, caught it. Then she served long. She looked nervous--but wasn't. Mauresmo served again quickly. She and Henin-Hardenne engaged in a short, unmemorable rally, and the seemingly tougher Belgian cracked first, pushing a weak forehand into the net. Mauresmo had truly earned a Grand Slam title, and the one that matters most. She threw up her arms. Her knees began to give. The racket tumbled from her trembling hands, and she sank, crying, to her knees.
"That's why you play," Mauresmo said afterward. "That's why you practice: because you dream of that moment. How is it going to be? How am I going to be? And this adrenaline, this emotion--it's really going through the whole body. It's tough to put in words the relief, the joy. Because when you think about it, when you look back, it's this you're going to remember: this moment. And this moment is amazing."
How much Nadal wants this moment, too, was the fortnight's revelation. The winner of a record 60 straight matches on clay and the citizen of Tennis Nation most likely to say, "Grass is for cows," Nadal stunned everyone with his showing at Wimbledon. He had played only 16 matches on grass in his life before starting his 2006 run at the All England Club, but after beating Agassi, he began to think he could really win it all. Entering the locker room last Friday after defeating Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus to secure a place in the final, Nadal realized what he had done and burst into tears.
It wasn't the only time he would come off a bit overwhelmed, but no one should expect that to last. He fell on Sunday, hard, but he will get up. "Roger beat me, but it's O.K.--when I played my best tennis, the match was very close," Nadal said. "That's good. Because this is his best surface, no?"
In other words, the hard-court season looms, and at its end comes the U.S. Open in late August. Federer said on Sunday that he's less interested in playing Nadal again than in reaching another Grand Slam final, but Nadal wants another crack at the king. And another. With this one win, Federer has made theirs a real rivalry at last.
"I am going to try my best," Nadal said. "But sometimes it's not just tennis, no? You need belief about victory. Some players, when they play [Roger], they don't believe. But I believe in victory always. I know it's not impossible."