All zeal but no steel

All zeal but no steel

All zeal but no steel

Time for goodbye Amelie Mauresmo didn’t do justice to her enormous talent.

Amélie Mauresmo was, in many ways, too intelligent and sensitive to be a top-class sportswoman. She was an enormous talent, possessing a gloriously natural one-handed backhand which, combined with her athleticism, had singled her out as an outstanding junior, but thereafter life on the tennis circuit too often was an enormous struggle against her nerves – most notably in Paris where the crowds at Roland Garros longed to see her succeed, though she was never able to get past the quarterfinals. That she won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006 was a double triumph that few ever expected to see happen. Now, aged only 30, she has retired.

It now seems vaguely ridiculous, and certainly paradoxical, that when she reached the 1999 Australian Open final as a 19-year-old many of the comments were about her power play, notably after she had crushed Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals. Martina Hingis beat her in that final, though both players were to succumb to the rise of the Williams sisters as women's tennis abandoned artistry until Justine Henin proved that it was possible to combine power with finesse.

Mauresmo, essentially an extremely private woman, never hid the fact she was gay though she suffered badly in Melbourne 10 years ago when Davenport made several ill-judged comments about her physique and Hingis, on Swiss-German radio, referred to her as being "half man, half woman". It was both cruel and totally unnecessary, and affected Mauresmo deeply. There is no knowing how differently her playing career might have developed if those comments had not been made, or if she had beaten Hingis, though perhaps she never had the mental steel, the sliver of ice in the heart, that marks out the greatest of champions.

She briefly rose to world No1 in 2004, yet before 2006 even the French despaired of their Amélie ever winning a major title. She was a multiple champion on the WTA Tour and a frequent semifinalist and quarterfinalist at the slams, but back problems continually hampered her, even though many suspected the injuries were often psychosomatic. Those French journalists that travelled the world with her both admired and respected her, yet time and again were forced into that Gallic shrug when matters went awry. "It's Amélie," they sighed.

Then in the Australasian summer of 2006 she won her first slam, beating Henin in the final. Yet even then, at the high point of her career, the joy of success was severely reduced when the Belgian, who is making her comeback next year, retired when 6-1, 2-0 down. So Mauresmo was denied the delight of hitting the winning championship shot and had also to deal with the contention that, if Henin had not been ill, she would not have won anyway. Fortunately, and to the immense happiness of the tennis world, Mauresmo followed this win with the Wimbledon title, and this time there were no provisos, for she defeated Russia's Maria Sharapova in the semifinals and then, most sweetly, Henin – after being a set down – to become the first French Wimbledon champion of the open era.

Without doubt she had the talent to have won more slams, though that she ended up winning two was more than many critics had ever supposed possible, given her often chronic loss of nerve on the big stage. And it should be remembered also that, for all their talent in depth, no Frenchman has won a major since Yannick Noah, Mauresmo's hero, took the French Open in 1983. Mauresmo's retirement was not unexpected; she had no more to give. What she did achieve, against the odds, will always be remembered.