November 13, 2005: The day Amélie Mauresmo won her first major title at the WTA Finals

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 2005 to witness how Amélie Mauresmo beat Mary Pierce to win the first all-French final in the history of the WTA Finals

Amélie Mauresmo, WTA Finals 2005

What exactly happened exactly on that day?

On this day, November 13, in 2005, Amelie Mauresmo, who had been heavily criticized in the past for having reached the world No 1 ranking without having won any major titles, silenced her critics by triumphing at the WTA Finals. On top of that, the Frenchwoman, whose ability to handle pressure when the stakes were high had often come under scrutiny, won a close battle against compatriot Mary Pierce (5-7, 7-6, 6-4).

The players involved: Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce

  • Amelie Mauresmo: The talented Frenchwoman who was targeted for her lack of Grand Slam success

Amelie Mauresmo was born in 1979 in France. She made herself famous in 1999, when, ranked 29th in the world, she reached the final at the Australian Open, 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). That year, she also entered the top 10 for the first time and claimed her first title in Bratislava.

Mauresmo confirmed her potential in 2001, lifting four trophies on the tour and going as far as the quarter-finals 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, Mauresmo won 12 titles (including six “Tier I”, the most important non-major tournaments) and reached three Grand Slam semi-finals, as well as nine quarter-finals, but she never reached another major final. Her lack of success in at the Grand Slam events made her a target for her alleged mental weakness and for becoming world No 1 in September 2004 quite controversial.

  • Mary Pierce: the Frenchwoman with two Grand Slam titles

Mary Pierce was born in 1975 in Montreal, Canada, but, holding French citizenship from her mother, she chose to play for France. The youngest player at the time to make a professional debut, at the age of 14 years and two months, she became a top player in 1991, when she claimed her first title in Palermo, and finished the year as world No 26. Her early career was impacted by her father’s violent behaviour which, in 1993, led the WTA Tour to ban him from attending any tournaments, and led Mary to request a restraining order after he threatened her life. After claiming four other titles in the next two years, and reaching the quarter-finals at the 1993 Australian Open, Pierce reached the final of the 1994 French Open. Before losing to Arantxa Sanchez (6-4, 6-4), she routed the world No 1, Steffi Graf, in the semi-final (6-2, 6-2), delivering one of the most impressive performances in the tournament’s history.

A few months later, Pierce became the first Frenchwoman in 28 years to claim a Grand Slam title, triumphing at the 1995 Australian Open, taking her revenge against Sanchez in the final (6-3, 6-2). Injuries plagued her 1996 season, but in 1997, she reached a second final in Melbourne, although this time, she was easily defeated by the Swiss prodigy, Martina Hingis (6-2, 6-2). The same year, she led the French team to win the Fed Cup, and finished runner-up at the Masters Cup (lost to Jana Novotna, 7-6, 6-2, 6-3). Consistent at the top level in the following years, her career peaked in June 2000, when she triumphed at Roland-Garros, defeating Conchita Martinez in the final (6-2, 7-5). Struggling with injuries between 2001 and 2003, she returned to the top in 2005. At the end of that year, she climbed as high as world No 5 after she finished runner-up at Roland-Garros (lost to Justine Henin, 6-1, 6-1) and at  the US Open (defeated by Kim Clijsters, 6-3, 6-1).

The place: Los Angeles

The women’s WTA Finals was held for the first time in 1972 in Boca Raton, Florida. After a few years at Boca Raton and in Los Angeles, the tournament settled in New York, where it was held at the Madison Square Garden until 2000. The season-finale returned to Los Angles in 2002, and in 2003, the event went from 16 players to 8. With only the top players of the year qualifying for the event, the list of its former champions was always impressive.

The facts: Mauremos wins three-set thriller as Pierce runs out of fuel

In November 2005, when Frenchwomen Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce entered the year-end WTA Finals, they were at very different stages of their career. Although she had been ranked No 1 in 2004, 26-year-old Mauresmo was still chasing a first big title to establish herself as a great champion. On the other hand, Pierce was 30 years old, and despite having never held the top ranking on the WTA Tour, she had won two Grand Slam titles, at the 1995 Australian Open and at Roland-Garros in 2000. After a few years plagued by injuries, she was at the end of an amazing 2005 season, during which she finished runner-up at both Roland-Garros and the US Open

The two women faced each other in the last match of the round-robin stage. However, with both already assured to qualify for the semi-finals and the stakes being very low, Pierce won in three sets. To qualify for the final, Mauresmo defeated Maria Sharapova (7-6, 6-3) while Pierce eliminated top-ranked Lindsay Davenport (7-6, 7-6). 

Their confrontation in the first all-French final in the WTA Finals’ history was nothing like their lacklustre match-up in the round-robin. According to the New York Times, “for more than three hours, the women jerked each other from side to side, punctuated by Mauresmo’s changing speeds and Pierce’s artful drop shots.” Mauresmo’s coach, Loîc Courteau, quoted by Le Monde, would even call it “the greatest women’s tennis match [I have] ever seen”. 

Despite the loss of the first set (7-5), Mauresmo held on and managed to win the second-set tiebreak (7-3). In the deciding set, Pierce seemed to be running out of fuel, which was a part of Mauresmo’s plan: “I didn’t want short rallies. I wanted to make her work hard, from the beginning. It paid off in the third set.”

Mauresmo gave herself a final scare when, after having broken her opponent’s serve at 4-4, she found herself down 0-40 while serving for the match. However, Pierce didn’t have enough stamina left and she collapsed with five unforced errors.

“I really think that’s a huge step for me,” said Mauresmo, who was the first Frenchwoman to triumph at the WTA Finals. “I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but it is a step. You know that it’s an important moment.”

What next? Mauresmo wins two Grand Slams in 2006 while Pierce’s career ends tragically

Mauresmo was right when she said that claiming a first major title was an important step for her. The following year, she would climb back to world No 1, this time in style, defeating Justine Henin in the finals of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, which would remain her two only Grand Slam titles. Mauresmo would then slowly decline, hampered by numerous injuries. She would exit the top 10 in 2007 and would only claim two more titles on the tour before retiring at the end of 2009. 

In 2006, a foot injury would prevent Pierce her from competing between February and August. Her career would end tragically at the end of that year when she suffered a terrible injury, while facing Vera Zvonreva in the second round of the Linz Open. The two-time Grand Slam champion would tear her knee ligaments and would never able to play tennis pain-free again.

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