World number one Amelie Mauresmo laid her Wimbledon demons to rest by beating Maria Sharapova in a thrilling Wimbledon semi-final on Thursday.
The Frenchwoman, who had lost at this stage three times before, made it to the final on Saturday at the All England club with a dramatic 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over Sharapova to progress to a final clash with Justine Henin-Hardenne. In both 2004, against Serena Williams, and 2005, against Lindsay Davenport, Mauresmo had lost after being a set and a break up.
That nightmare scenario looked like it might repeat itself when Sharapova, whose battling performance tested her opponent's suspect temperament to the limit, won five games in a row to claim the second set from 1-3 down.
The Russian could not sustain her momentum however as Mauresmo held her nerve to set up a repeat of this year's Australian Open final, which she won after Henin-Hardenne was forced to retire with a stomach upset in the second set.
Mauresmo admitted she had been breathed a huge sigh of relief after surviving a two hour 13 minute battle on Centre Court that was of a far higher quality than Henin-Hardenne's
nervy win over fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters.
"I was so relieved that I was able to come back in the third set and change the momentum she had at the end of the second," Mauresmo said before setting her sights on a double French triumph on World Cup final weekend.
"I am expecting a tough one," she said. "Justine is playing some great, very aggressive tennis but I hope it is a big weekend for France."
Mauresmo claimed the first set after securing the first break of the match in the eighth game for a 5-3 lead. Having played near flawless tennis up to that point, there was a hint of nerves from the world number one as she fluffed her first two set points and she would have been relieved to see Sharapova send an easy volley beyond the baseline.
That blip appeared to have been forgotten as Mauresmo raced into a 3-1 lead in the second set and Sharapova found herself 0-40 down on her own serve. Yet somehow, from the brink of what would surely have been an irretrievable position, the Russian found the impetus to reel off five games in a row to send the match into a third set.
Perhaps conscious that the momentum was with her opponent, Mauresmo disappeared for a long toilet break before the start of the decisive set. Whether or not it was a calculated move rather than a call of nature, it certainly did the trick. When she came back, the Frenchwoman appeared to have rediscovered the composure that had deserted her. After comfortably holding her serve, she edged a long second game that left Sharapova looking visibly deflated.
An uncharacteristic double fault from the Russian handed Mauresmo a second break and a 4-0 lead, but her afternoon's work was still far from finished. Sharapova won the next two games and got to break point in the next one, only for Mauresmo to come up with an ace just when she needed it most.
Henin-Hardenne, runner-up to Venus Williams in 2001, beat Clijsters 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) to earn the chance to win the only Grand Slam to have eluded her. It was a case of missed opportunities for Clijsters, who squandered a 4-3, 40-0 lead in the first set and then failed to serve out the second set at 6-5.
"It was tough," Henin-Hardenne said. "There were a lot of nerves today but I played well on the important points. "I knew I had to be aggressive but that is not easy against a player like Kim. There is one match more to go now and it is going to be a tough one."
Clijsters admited: "She played well when she had to and that is what she is good at."