Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Henin claims Dubai Open with win over Amelie Mauresmo

AFP , DUBAI

Justine Henin justified the seedings but defied the odds when she retained her Dubai Open title with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Amelie Mauresmo.

It gave the Belgian revenge for her loss to the French woman in the Wimbledon final and maintained Henin's unbeaten record in the Gulf tournament to 16 matches over four tournaments -- but plenty of people would have bet against all that at the start of the week.

Then she struggled to survive against a 16-year-old qualifier; now she was too good for her rival who had set her mind on the physically difficult achievement of winning back-to-back titles on different continents.

"I said at the beginning of the week it would be difficult to get through it," said Mauresmo, a last-minute replacement at the tournament following the withdrawals of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

"I almost did. It was only by a point here and a point there that I failed, and I am proud to have come here at the last moment to support the tournament," she said.

Henin can be proud of overcoming her shaky, nerve-ridden start and of building her mental strength in only her second tournament since the break-up of her marriage.

Henin attacked any vulnerable second serves with venom, taking risks in getting forward and asserting herself more stridently than she used to when she first entered the limelight.

It helped her to break serve at once, and with Mauresmo looking a little sluggish Henin broke serve again to reach 4-1. She was close to reaching 5-1 before Mauresmo made a big effort, skipping a little between points, trying to get her footwork going and finding the mark with some wonderfully well disguised topspin drives.

She fought back so well that she had three break points at 0-40 on Henin's serve to reach 4-4.

But Henin landed five first serves in a row, two of them with forceful follow-ups and three of them unreturned. She herself said that was the turning point of the first set and possibly even the match.

Thereafter it became clear why she does so well on the Dubai hard courts, which are too slow for the big hitters to pound their way through her, but just fast enough for her to build up patterns of attack with her all-court game.

One wobble in the penultimate game, concluded by a double fault, effectively cost Mauresmo the match.

The biggest doubt then was whether a prolonged Mexican wave, which made Henin wait for a minute before she served for the match, would affect her. It didn't.

She served out to love and, for almost the first time during a difficult week, came out with a wide smile.

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