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Tue 19 Feb 2008 02:46 AM

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Tennis ace Mauresmo builds up new head of steam

Former world No.1 builds comeback, reaching second round of Qatar Open.

Amelie Mauresmo, who had won only eight matches since losing her Wimbledon title last July, continued what she hopes is the building of a comeback when she reached the second round of the Qatar Open here Monday.

The former world number one from France won 7-6, 6-3 against Sabine Lisicki, the 18-year-old Poland-born German, in a tournament whose 2,500,000 dollars prize money has helped elevate it to tier one status on the WTA Tour for the first time.

It was a far from easy opening match for someone whose confidence has inevitably been affected by a lengthy injury-affected slump, for Lisicki marked her Fed Cup debut for her adopted home country a fortnight ago by beating another former world number one, Lindsay Davenport.

Still outside the top 100 and entering the tournament as a wild card, Lisicki also struck the ball hard and boldly and played with the light-heartedness of someone who seemed to be certain she will soon acquire the ranking to be a permanent part of the tour.

But Mauresmo had a grimmer look, perhaps conscious of the fact that, well into her 29th year, she needs to be making progress now if she is to have many further great moments ahead of her.

"It's always hard when you are in the middle of a struggle like this to step back and realize that so many players have had these moments and come back even stronger," admitted Mauresmo.

"But at least my confidence is growing every time I win. This was definitely not the best I have been - but I am fighting".

"I thought I started pretty slow. I got broken in the first game but while coming back there were definitely a few moments I was not happy about.

"I thought it got a little better, but she's a good player and I really had to fight. I'm just happy to have won and I thought the second half of the match was much better".

Mauresmo won the first set after failing to convert a set point in the twelfth game and being forced into a tie-breaker. But she squeezed out of that with the help of erratic moments from the teenager on her first pair of service points.

She might have slipped into trouble had she followed the loss of her service game for 3-3 in the second set by falling behind.

But from 40-love down on Lisicki's serve Mauresmo fashioned a sudden recovery which turned the match. It was started by a Lisicki double fault and continued by good returns and enterprising net attacks from Mauresmo.

From that moment the 12th seed was on top, holding for 5-3, and returning well again to complete the contest with a sequence of three winning games.

Mauresmo's movement looked good at this stage, lending substance to her contention that she has recovered not only from the groin problem which made her withdraw from the Sydney tournament last month, but from all her ailments of the past eight months.

Asked whether it was bad luck that she should have suffered such a sequence, or whether the setbacks were related to each other, Mauresmo claimed the schedule required of much a top level touring professional.

"Some are back luck and some are related," she said. "What we do is difficult for the body. We play week in and week out, surfaces change all the time, and the body has to adjust and adapt.

"There are planes and jet lag, changing continents every couple of months, so when you have been doing that for a few years it starts to affect the body".

She next plays Tamarine Tanasugarn, the world number 98 from Thailand.

Another who has suffered from a variety of fitness problems in the past two years, Nadia Petrova, the tenth-seeded former world number three from Russia, found herself in the wars again.

Petrova failed to get past Anabel Medina Garrigues, a 25-year-old Spaniard who has yet to break the top 20, shaking her head in dismay during the first set, which she lost 6-2, and retiring with an upset stomach while leading 2-1 in the second set.

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