October 24, 1999: The day Amelie Mauresmo claimed her first title
- 24 Oct 2020
On this day, October 24, 1999, a 20-year-old Amélie Mauresmo claimed her maiden title in Bratislava, defeating another rising star in 16-year old Kim Clijsters (6-3, 6-3). It was the first of fifteen clashes between two future world No 1s, and, for the French player, the first of the 25 titles that she would accumulate throughout her career.
The players involved
Amélie Mauresmo was born in 1979. She was successful at a young age, winning in the juniors rank at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon in 1996. She obtained her first remarkable result in 1998, when she finished runner-up to Conchita Martinez in Berlin (6-4, 6-4). She burst into the public eye in 1999, when she reached the final at the Australian Open as world No 29, defeating world no.1 Lindsay Davenport in the semi-final (4-6 7-5 7-5) before losing to Martina Hingis (6-2 6-3). A few weeks later, she reached another final, in Paris-Coubertin, where she fell to Serena Williams (6-2, 3-6, 7-6). By October 1999, she rose to the 11th rank on the WTA ranking.
Kim Clijsters was born in 1983. In 1998, the 15-year-old Belgian earned her first WTA points, finishing the year as world No 409. In 1999, she made her way out of the qualifiers at Wimbledon, defeated only in the fourth round by Steffi Graf (6-2, 6-2), after she had beaten world No 10 Amanda Coetzer in the third round. In September, she cemented her meteoric rise by claiming her first title at the Luxembourg Open, defeating world No 13 Dominique Monami in the final. Aged only sixteen, she was already world No 54.
The Eurotel Slovak Open was established in 1999. Held in Bratislava on indoor hard courts, it distributed $111,000 in prize money, and its two top seeds were both French — Amélie Mauresmo and Nathalie Dechy.
Amélie Mauresmo was the No 1 seed in Bratislava, but she didn’t exactly cruise through the draw. She was close to defeat in the first round against world No 88 Hungarian Rita Kuti-Kis, only escaping in the deciding tie-break (3-6, 6-3, 7-6). In the second round, she also had to fight hard to eliminate Barbara Rittner (No 56, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4). The Australian Open runner-up had more luck in the semi-final, where she won without even playing, as her opponent, Kveta Hrdlickova, was forced to withdraw after a wasp sting.
One player still stood between Mauresmo and her first title on the tour — Kim Clijsters. On paper, the Frenchman, who was about to enter the top 10, was the heavy favourite, but the Belgian was not to be counted out. She ascended 400 WTA ranks in less than a year, beat a top 10 player (Amanda Coetzer) at Wimbledon, and a few weeks prior, she won her first tournament in Luxembourg, where she had played through the qualifiers. In the Bratislava semi-final she came back to defeat the second seed Nathalie Dechy 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, marking her 12th straight win heading into the matchup.
However, the first encounter between the rising stars was one-sided. Mauresmo outclassed Clijsters in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, to claim her maiden WTA title while edging ever-closer to a top-10 rank.
Amélie Mauresmo would rise to the occasion in 2001, lifting four trophies on the tour and going as far as the quarterfinals at the US Open (lost to Jennifer Capriati, 6-3 6-4). Between the start of 2002 and the end of 2005, displaying an aggressive game based on a good serve and a solid one-handed backhand, Amélie Mauresmo would claim twelve titles, but she failed to reach a major final. Her lack of success in Grand Slam events saw her criticized for her alleged mental weakness and her achieving world no.1 in September 2004 quite controversial. At the end of 2005, Mauresmo would eventually triumph in a major event, claiming the title at the Masters against fellow French Mary Pierce (5-7 7-6 6-4). In 2006, she would finally win a Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open, defeating a sick Justine Henin who abandoned when she was down 6-1 2-0. On the 20th of March, she would become world no.1 for the second time, and in June, she would clinch a second major crown at Wimbledon, defeating Justine Henin (2-6 6-3 6-4) in a spectacular battle. Mauresmo would retire in 2009.
Kim Clijsters would reach the French Open final in 2001, where she was defeated by Jennifer Capriati after a breathtaking two-and-a-half hour match (1-6 6-4 12-10). She would clinch her first major title in 2002, at the WTA Finals, held in Los Angeles, beating Serena Williams in the final in straight sets, 7-5 6-3.
2003 proved to be her peak as she became the first Belgian to reach world no.1. That year, she competed in 21 singles events, reaching the semifinals in all but one of them while advancing to 15 finals. She wrapped up the year winning nine titles, along with a stellar record of 90–12. The only thing she couldn’t achieve would be claiming a Grand Slam title — she had to wait two more years before lifting the US Open trophy, defeating Mary Pierce in the final (6-3, 6-1) After a first retirement in 2007, Clijsters came back in 2009, claiming three more major crowns (the US Open in 2009 and 2010, and the Australian Open in 2011). She retired again in 2012, but Clijsters attempted a second come-back in 2020, which began in Dubai (defeated by Muguruza, 6/2 7/6), but was interrupted by the coronavirus crisis
Mauresmo and Clijsters faced each other 15 times in their career, with the Belgian leading 8-7 in their head-to-head.
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