Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 18 News List

No clear favorite at WTA Championships in Madrid

AFP , MADRID

Maria Sharapova shrugged off her "favorite" tag on Monday as she prepared to do battle with rivals headed by Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne at the WTA Championships.

"It would be great to finish No. 1. I'm excited to be here and I'm feeling fit," she said, without getting involved in who deserved the favorite label.

Mauresmo, whom Sharapova is out to unseat in the rankings, did not hesitate, however, in identifying the Russian as the one to beat.

"I would put Maria just a little ahead," Mauresmo told reporters, a view which she was not alone in expounding as Belgian rival Kim Clijsters agreed.

"Maria has dominated the season. She's very determined. It would be very hard to beat her" said Clijsters, who warmed up for the tournament by winning the WTA tournament in Hasselt on Sunday.

Henin-Hardenne was just glad to be in town after recovering from knee problems.

"I'm very happy to be here after eight to ten days of doubts. The most important thing is to be here and that's a big victory already. I've nothing to lose after being out for two months," said the diminutive Belgian, who explained the slew of injuries to top players on tennis being "a very demanding sport."

Swiss star and five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis, who said she was "very proud" to have managed to make it to the annual showdown in her first season back since leaving the Tour in 2002 due to foot and ankle injuries, meanwhile that Sharapova was her tip.

"Maria is very strong at the moment," said Hingis, who will play in the championships for the eighth time.

She won the crown in 1998 and 2000.

"I'm really excited to have qualified for the championships in my first year back on Tour," Hingis said ahead of her arrival.

While Hingis is hoping to turn back the clock, Sharapova's fellow Russians do not believe there is a clear favorite.

"It's very hard to say who is the favorite, especially at the end of the year," Elena Dementieva said.

Svetlana Kuznetsova echoed that.

"I don't think there is a favorite. Anything can happen," she said.

In Sharapova's favor, however, Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne have both been ravaged by injury.

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