Tue, Nov 13, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Henin ends her season with a win

MISS MEGABUCKS In winning the longest WTA Championships final since 1999, Henin was the first woman to earn more than US$5million in a season

AFP , MADRID

Justine Henin's inspired season reached a suitable climax when she successfully defended her title at the tour-ending event, the WTA Championships, her victory over Maria Sharapova completing a quartet of other notable achievements.

Tired, bothered by a bad foot, and suffering from the labors of an intense season against a relatively fresh opponent, Henin's 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 win over the returning Russian took fully three hours and 25 minutes, the longest final since the event switched to the best of three sets in 1999.

If also made Henin the first woman ever to have earned more than US$5 million prize money in one season; the first in 10 years, since Martina Hingis, to win 10 titles in a season; and the first in 18 years, since Steffi Graf, to remain unbeaten post-Wimbledon.

Henin, who has recovered from a marital breakdown and ridden the emotion of a family reunion after seven years' estrangement, also achieved a personal best of 25 consecutive wins -- the best on the tour in seven years.

"It's the last day of the season, the last match and 25 wins was great motivation. It's been fantastic and emotional and I just wanted to enjoy this last moment," said Henin, who rushed straight up into the stands to celebrate with her family and back-up team.

It was nevertheless a notable effort too by Sharapova -- not having achieved a win since the US Open in September, struggling with a long-term shoulder problem, and now coming so close to the title.

"I wasn't sure I would play here and I only came here hoping to get as many matches as possible, and this happens. It's more than I expected," she said.

The first set, lasting fully an hour and a quarter, and full of positive and varied rallies, had a suitably dramatic finish.

Three times Henin had chances to take it to a tie-breaker, and seven times she saved points to lose the set, eventually losing it on set point No. 8 when she top-edged a forehand under pressure.

Once it looked as though she had made it to 6-6, when she delivered a first serve down the middle and had it called an ace, game to Henin. But Sharapova appealed to Hawkeye which, surprisingly, showed it as 7cm or 8cm out, whereupon Henin delivered a double fault.

She also missed three chances to break serve at the opening of the second set, which might have shifted the momentum of the match. But by then Sharapova's adrenaline was running high, as she began to sense a notable victory.

Sharapova had begun by serving moderately, delivering a double fault in the first game, and dropping her second service game. Before the match she had clearly still been edgy about her shoulder.

Told that she was serving well and hence asked if it was now 100 percent, she snapped back: "I don't talk in percentages."

Nevertheless, her shoulder warmed to the task and after she had broken back she served more solidly, but often conservatively.

However, it wasn't enough and Henin ultimately triumphed.

"In the third set it was mentally and physically tough," Henin said. "We were both dead. But what a way to finish the season. I feel it's a dream for me to do this after what happened this season. But I had a lot of people around me to support me and I grew up."

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