Mauresmo stars in France's triumph

Members of the French tennis team (from left) Emilie Loit, Mary Pierce, Amelie Mauresmo and captain Guy Forget with the Fed Cup. -- Pic. REUTERS-Members of the French tennis team (from left) Emilie Loit, Mary Pierce, Amelie Mauresmo and captain Guy Forget with the Fed Cup. -- Pic. REUTERS

FRANCE completed a 4-1 win over USA to claim its second Fed Cup title at the Olympic Stadium, Moscow.

FRANCE completed a 4-1 win over USA to claim its second Fed Cup title at the Olympic Stadium, Moscow. It seems almost a tad strange that a tennis nation with the history of France should only be winning the Fed Cup for the second time. Five times a Frenchwoman has won the Roland Garros singles title, but France's team tennis triumphs have been limited to 1997 and now 2003. The common player has been Mary Pierce. She featured in the 1997 final in Den Bosch when the French beat the Netherlands, and after a six-year absence she returned to play in another French winning team, this time in Moscow.

But while Pierce's role was crucial, the real player of the week who featured in the semi-finals and final was Amelie Mauresmo. And it was fitting that she should steer France to the title. Mauresmo improved her 2003 Fed Cup record to eight out of eight by beating Meghann Shaughnessy 6-2, 6-1, a victory that gave France an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the final against USA.

Mauresmo gave France a head start by putting it across Lisa Raymond 6-4, 6-3 in the first rubber. Then Mary Pierce put France in a commanding position with a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6) over Meghann Shaughnessy. Mauresmo was in sublime form in cruising past Shaughnessy 6-2, 6-1 in the crucial reverse rubber.

With a further win for Emilie Loit over the Fed Cup debutant Alexandra Stevenson, 6-4 6-2, and victory for Americans Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond over Loit and Stephanie Cohen-Aloro 6-4, 6-0, it made the final score 4-1 to the French.

"I feel such pride, and joy for the whole team," said Mauresmo, who sank to her knees with emotion when Shaughnessy's forehand went into the net on the Frenchwoman's second match point. She jumped into the arms of captain Guy Forget, and shed tears of joy at the courtside, before joining her team-mates and support staff in an on-court celebratory can-can.

"I really wanted to win the Fed Cup," added Mauresmo, who puts this alongside her 10 WTA Tour titles and run to the final of the 1999 Australian Open. "It's right up there, it's one of the biggest moments, maybe the biggest one, and sharing this with a team makes it also very special."

The triumph allows Guy Forget to join his former team-mate Yannick Noah as the only man ever to have captained winning Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams.

It also means Martina Navratilova finishes on the losing side in the Fed Cup for the first time in 23 ties, but her doubles win allows her to keep up her record of never having lost a Fed Cup rubber, a record she has now extended to 39 matches.

With France going into the final day 2-0 up, Mauresmo was an overwhelming favourite to seal the victory in the first of the reverse singles, but in the first three games Shaughnessy had a chance. "My game plan was to go for her forehand because that's certainly her weaker side," said the American, and the strategy was bringing in a number of easy points.

The problem was that Shaughnessy was making too many errors of her own to make the most of Mauresmo's inconsistency. She had three points to hold serve in the third game, but made errors on all of them, and when Mauresmo converted her second break point, the floodgates opened. "It was probably the key moment, the third game," said Mauresmo. "It was a long game, and when I broke her I was really dominating the game and dominating her, and I could feel she had no solution to beat me, which gave me a lot of confidence."

Mauresmo was in rousing form as she won both her singles matches in straight sets. -- Pic. AP-

Mauresmo dropped just two points in her four service games in the first set, and while she was challenged a little more in the second, she never faced a break point. As Shaughnessy tried to apply more pressure, her own forehand broke down, and it was a forehand into the net on match point that ended the contest in Mauresmo's favour after 61 minutes.

Shaughnessy said: "I couldn't bring as much intensity to the match as I did yesterday, and that's something I'm going to have to work on. But there have been a ton of positives from this week. I wouldn't swap playing Fed Cup for anything."

In the two dead rubbers, Emilie Loit of France defeated Alexandra Stevenson 6-4, 6-2 and Martina Navratilova paired with Lisa Raymond to defeat Stephanie Cohen-Aloro and Loit 6-4, 6-0, to give the Americans their only win.

"I was just happy for the team that we didn't get shut out," Navratilova said. "It's bad enough losing ... so I just wanted to hold it up with Lisa for the rest of the team and get a win," said Navratilova.

Earlier in the semifinals, USA defeated Belgium 4-1 while France defeated Russia 3-2.

France jumped to No. 1 on the ITF Fed Cup Nations ranking following its victory over USA in the final. The nation climbed five places to push 2002 champion Slovak Republic down to No. 2.

By reaching the final, USA stayed at No. 4, but semifinalists Belgium and Russia both slipped back a place, Belgium to No. 3 and Russia to No. 6. Spain also dropped back two places to No. 5.

The results

Final: France bt USA 4-1 (Amelie Mauresmo bt Lisa Raymond 6-4, 6-3; Mary Pierce bt Meghann Shaughnessy 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6); Mauresmo bt Shaughnessy 6-2, 6-1; Emilie Loit bt Alexandra Stevenson 6-4, 6-2; Stephanie Cohen-Aloro & Loit lost to Martina Navratilova & Raymond 4-6, 0-6).

Semifinals: USA bt Belgium 4-1 (L. Raymond bt E. Callens 6-2, 6-1; M. Shaughnessy bt K. Flipkens 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (8-6) 9-7; Shaughnessy lost to E. Callens 3-6, 6-7 (5-7); L. Raymond bt Clijsters 6-2, 6-1; M. Navratilova & L. Raymond bt Clijsters & Maes 6-1, 6-4); France bt Russia 3-2 (Mauresmo bt V. Zvonareva 6-2, 6-2; Pierce lost to A. Myskina 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 5-7; Mauresmo bt Myskina 6-7(3-7), 6-3, 6-4;. Pierce bt Zvonareva 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; S. Cohen-Aloro & E. Loit lost to Petrova & Myskina 3-6, 6-1, 3-6).