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.
KEY GOAL: Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is now free to focus on taking her fourth doubles title of the year with Barbora Strycova; they are due to face Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei on Monday returned to the court for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the WTA Tour, falling to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, who made a solid transition from the hard courts in New York to the clay at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest,” Mertens told the WTA Web site. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little. It was also [Hsieh’s] first match of the week, so that was a bit of an
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.