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Victory confirms Henin in top spot

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MADRID, Spain -- Justine Henin-Hardenne clinched the year-end number one spot when she ended Maria Sharapova's 19-match winning streak with a 6-2 7-6 win over the Russian in the semifinals of the WTA Championships on Saturday.

In the final she will face holder Amelie Mauresmo, who began the tournament in the number one position.

Mauresmo beat Kim Clijsters 6-2 3-6 6-3 in an enthralling contest.

The three-times French Open champion Henin-Hardenne, who also topped the rankings in 2003, produced a wonderful display full of guile and determination to overcome the 19-year-old and secure her place in a first Championships final.

The 24-year-old took the game to Sharapova from the off and forced her opponent into a series of uncharacteristic errors with her pin-point backhand and clever serves.

Sharapova, who had not dropped a set on the way to the semis, looked bemused as the pint-sized Belgian returned everything she could throw at her and was never able to get into her stride.

Henin-Hardenne, who reached the final of all four grand slams this year, will play either defending champion Amelie Mauresmo or two-time winner Kim Clijsters in Sunday's final.

"I feel very happy with the way I coped with the pressure and with the aggressive way I played," she said after the match.

"I loved the match and felt confident throughout and I thought she (Sharapova) was nervous. I took my chances.

"I'm number one now but my season is not over yet and I want to win these Championships," added Henin-Hardenne.

Henin-Hardenne, who returned to action this week following a two-month lay-off after injuring her calf in the Fed Cup final, made a confident start and appeared determined to try to keep the tall Russian on the move.

She won the opening game with a cleverly disguised drop shot and then broke serve after working her opponent around the court with some inch-perfect ground strokes.

The French Open champion manufactured three break points in the sixth with a wonderful passing shot and went 5-1 up when Sharapova double-faulted.

Broke back

The Russian broke back in the seventh, but Henin-Hardenne stayed focused and broke again to take the set after a volley error.

Sharapova tried to battle her way back into the match with her trademark forehands, but Henin-Hardenne made her work for every point and held her serve with authority.

It was level pegging in the second set, but the Belgian turned the screw in the eighth game to earn herself five break points and go 5-3 up.

Sharapova refused to give up without a fight however and broke back when her opponent was serving for the match, but Henin-Hardenne kept her nerve to win through in the tie-break 7-5 and gain some measure of revenge for her defeat in the final of the U.S. Open.

There was nothing to separate Mauresmo and Clijsters until the Frenchwoman grabbed the crucial break in the deciding set to go 5-3 up after a failed line-call challenge from Clijsters.

Mauresmo then served out for victory to earn the chance to defend her title.

Mauresmo beat Henin-Hardenne to win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year.


Henin-Hardenne pumps her fist as she defeats Sharapova to end the year as No.1

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