Mauresmo returns to winner's circle

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It took 13 months, but power- hitting Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo finally ended a titleless drought...on her home turf no less.

"It's been quite a while that I've wanted to win in France," an emotional Mauresmo said after stopping German Anke Huber 7-6 (7-2), 6-1 in the Open Gaz de France final in Paris.

Both Mauresmo and Huber have battled injuries recently, especially Huber, who hadn't played since bowing out of the U.S. Open last September with a sprained right wrist. Mauresmo, however, was the one who broke through for her third career title in the City of Lights.

Mauresmo headed into the Parisian showcase as the the eighth seed and ranked No. 19 in the world. She exited the tournament with hardware and a world No. 14 ranking.

Compatriots Mary Pierce and Nathalie Tauziat were seeded higher than Mauresmo at Stade Pierre de Coubertin, but Pierce was knocked out in the second round by Luxembourg's Anne Kremer and Tauziat fell victim to the eventual champion in the semifinals, where the much-younger Mauresmo destroyed the current world No. 12, 6-2, 6-1 . Tauziat was the third seed and defending champion at the Open Gaz tournament, but neither of those facts helped the ancient 33-year-old.

After Pierce was bumped from the draw, many felt that second- seeded Russian beauty Anna Kournikova would have a good chance at capturing that elusive first career title.

But, as usual, it wasn't meant to be for "Kourni."

Mauresmo reached the round of four in Paris by ousting the striking Kournikova in the quarterfinals. Mauresmo was losing badly to the Russian sensation, 6-2, 3-0, before roaring back to win 13 of the next 17 games to shock the international sex symbol 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, much to the delight of the pro-Mauresmo throng.

"It was fabulous to win my first tournament in France in front of such a great crowd," Mauresmo said. "It's crazy -- I feel really emotional. I don't think there is a word to describe it."

Mauresmo, the 1999 runner-up to American Serena Williams at the Open Gaz extravaganza, pocketed $90,000 for the win. She lost to Williams two years ago after dismissing Martina Hingis in the semis.

Prior to last week's success in her native France, the openly-gay athlete had hoisted just two trophies as a professional. Mauresmo's first-ever championship came in Bratislava in 1999, while the second came in Sydney in January of 2000. In order to prevail in Sydney, Mauresmo was forced to upset the three top-ranked players in the world.

Hopes for the now-21-year-old Mauresmo were extremely high after she reached the 1999 Australian Open final (where she lost to Hingis), a run that included a stunning victory over top-seeded world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport of the United States.

Mauresmo put herself on the tennis map in 1996 when she was named the Junior World Champion by the International Tennis Federation (joining past champions Hingis and Kournikova) after capturing French Open and Wimbledon junior singles titles. And by 1998, the all-court player was nominated for the WTA Tour's Most Impressive Newcomer Award.

With the win over Davenport at the '99 Aussie Open in January and a victory against Hingis at the Paris Indoors in February of that year, Mauresmo became the first player ranked outside the Top 10 to defeat two different world No. 1's in a calendar year, and the first player to do it within a month's time.

Mauresmo missed chunks of the 2000 campaign with a lower back injury, forcing her ranking to plummet to 19 after flying as high as No. 6 last year.

The tall and powerful racket woman features an artillery of potent groundstrokes, and if you combine that with the steady service game she utilized in Paris, a consistent and healthy Mauresmo will be hard to beat this season.

She's already 8-1 with a championship in the early going in 2001, with the lone loss coming against the mighty Venus Williams in the fourth round of last month's first Grand Slam event of the year -- the Aussie Open.

In Paris, Mauresmo became the fourth Frenchwoman to capture Open Gaz tourney, joining Tauziat, Pierce (1998) and the recently-retired Julie Halard-Decugis (1996).

Mauresmo will look to that fierce forehand to carry her through this week's Nice International event in the south of France.

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