The California Bear sports bar is on (not so) Grand Avenue in Oakland, CA. A stone's throw from Lake Merritt, the Bear is the place to go if you want to watch your favorite team from the beer drenched bleachers that face a wall lined with booze bottles and seven or eight television sets.
In early 2006, I had bellied up to the bar to watch my s-hero, Amelie Mauresmo of France, take on the evil Belgian villainess, Justine "The Hand" Henin. Years spent hoping and praying my girl would get over the hump culminated in la victoire extraordinaire. L'Equipe crowed, "MAURESMO LÉGENDE LE TENNIS." And so it was, if only for one night, magnifique.
Amelie had used her head-hopping topsin to run the lungs out of the ungracious Henin, who pulled a Sonny Liston and finished seated on her stool, rather than be carried out on her racket bag. Disgraceful.
Several months later at Wimbledon, I cried with Amelie as her rematch with "The Hand" brought her total victory, and a moving post-match celebration. The monkey was now officially off of her back, her nerves had simmered and her talent had been loosed. She had the Australian and Wimbledon: how many majors would fall?
Three years and assorted injuries later, some in the tennis world are crying out, "Amelie, ou etes vous?!" A revival of sorts took place in Paris at the Open GDF Suez this February as she defeated the always rugged Elena Dementieva in the final. But the consistency is lacking as are the results. There are plenty of tennis minds who can help diagnose what's ailing our champion. Is there a doctor in the house?
What's eating Amelie?
1.She's French. The French have a different mindset and outlook than their American counterparts. That's a good thing in my book. They aren't as ravenous as our top players. She owns a winery. 'Nuff said.
They don't want to win every Grand Slam tournament, even their own. They only want to wet their beak is all.
2.Temperament. See above.
3.Age and Fitness. The end of her break out year was sabotaged by injury. Hasn't been the same since. New coach/team could right the ship.
4.Hunger. See number one.
5a.Conservative counter puncher in an attacking net rusher's body. Not as quick to bolt to the net as in her glory year, Amelie often stays back and trades lollipops with younger, more powerful sluggers.
5b.Inferior weaponry. Her ground strokes, while versatile and deceptive, aren't nearly as heavy as Azarenka or Safina. Amelie can still slice, dice and blast her ill backhand.
Mauresmo volleys well - when she moves forward, but her shot selection can be problematic, as can her full Western forehand. The extreme grip can hamstring her transition game.
Will I get to shed tears for my girl at the French, Wimbledon or the Open this year? Does she have enough good juju to win a Slam this year or next? Will I ever set foot in the California Bear again? Absolument!
For armchair coaches and tennis medics only:
Gimme your diagnosis, treatment and prognosis for my s-hero.