Mauresmo beats Pierce in Los Angeles

Amelie Mauresmo outlasted Mary Pierce 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in a marathon base-line slugfest to win the WTA Championships on Sunday for the biggest title of her career.

“I really think that’s a huge step for me,” she said. “I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but it is a step. You know that it’s an important moment.”

Mauresmo double-faulted to trail love-40 in the final game, but rallied on five consecutive errors by Pierce in the first all-French final of the season-ending tournament.

When Pierce’s cross-court backhand went wide, Mauresmo fell to her knees and clapped her hands to her head as the crowd erupted in applause at Staples Centre.
She got up and met Pierce on the sideline, where they embraced, and Pierce whispered in her ear and kissed Mauresmo’s cheek.

“It’s just a great reward for me to be able to hold the trophy,” she said before heading off to celebrate in a most French way, with some good red wine.

“It’s the biggest win, so it has to be ranked as the best emotional moment for me. I’m just proud of what I did. I kept fighting.”

The whispers in women’s tennis said Mauresmo often caved while playing with the lead and couldn’t quite string enough matches together to win a grand-slam title or eight-player season-ending championships.

“You hear it,” she said. “For a sensitive person, it goes to you at some point when you’re still hearing the same things. The best answer I can give is on the court.

Mauresmo, a former world number one, has always been close and consistent, but fell short in winning a major title. She came closest at the 1999 Australian Open, losing in the final. She is a three-time Wimbledon semifinalist and reached the United States Open semis once.

“You have moments that you really believe this is going to happen, and you have some other moments when your mind is a little bit down, where you just think to yourself, ‘I’m never going to do it,’” she said.

At 30, Pierce is enjoying her best results in five years. She was runner-up at the French and US opens, won two titles, and will end the year at number five in the world, her highest ranking since 2000.

Mauresmo (26) will rise to number three when the WTA Tour rankings are released on Monday, behind number one Lindsay Davenport and number two Kim Clijsters.

She earned $1-million for the victory; Pierce received $500 000.

For more than three hours, the women jerked each other from side to side, keeping each other on the run with Mauresmo’s changing speeds and Pierce’s artful drop shots. Just when Pierce thought she’d hit a ball out of reach, Mauresmo would track it down and smack a winner.

“Hopefully, I won’t be having nightmares,” Pierce said.

Pierce and Mauresmo broke each other once in the first set, which Pierce won on Mauresmo’s netted backhand.

In the second, Mauresmo blew a 4-1 lead and failed to cash in two break points on Pierce’s serve in the 10th game. Pierce’s cross-court backhand winner helped her hold at six-all.

In the tiebreak, Mauresmo won three straight points to take a 4-1 lead. Pierce closed to 5-3 before her forehand failed and Mauresmo hit a winning backhand to even the match.

Pierce was broken to open the third set and then won three straight games for 3-2. Mauresmo leveled for four-all and broke Pierce in the next game.

Pierce held triple break point in the 10th game, but her slew of errors helped Mauresmo close out the match. Pierce had beaten Mauresmo in a three-setter on Friday during round-robin play.

“She was very motivated out there. I could see it, she wanted it,” Pierce said. “She knew that she needed to play really well and be aggressive to be able to beat me and she did that.”

Pierce hit 11 more winners, but had a whopping 49 unforced errors.

Pierce lost just once in five matches in her first appearance in the championships since 1999. She was runner-up in 1997; Mauresmo finished second in the 2003 final.—Sapa-AP

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