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Henin-Hardenne crowns a great year

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MADRID, Spain -- Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne claimed the first WTA Championships of her career when she beat Amelie Mauresmo 6-4 6-3 in an absorbing exhibition of high-quality tennis in Sunday's final.

Henin-Hardenne, who will succeed Mauresmo as world number one when the final rankings of the year are released on Monday, played some immaculate tennis as she closed out the defending champion in straight sets in a fitting end to the season.

The victory gave the three-times Roland Garros champion some revenge for her losses to the Frenchwoman in the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year.

"It couldn't have been better, especially as it was doubtful as to whether I would even take part this year," said an ecstatic Henin-Hardenne, who came back at the start of the week after a two-month lay-off following a calf injury in the Fed Cup final in September.

"I came here, I played well and I won. I knew I had to be aggressive and that's what I tried to do. It's been a great year, reaching the final of the four grand slams, winning the Championships.

"I have to be really satisfied and it's a big achievement to be the number one too. Now it's time for maybe a little party and a good vacation."

Henin-Hardenne missed the last two WTA Championships through injury, but this time she was determined not to let the opportunity slip from her grasp.

Just as she did in her semi-final victory over Maria Sharapova, the Belgian made an aggressive start, taking the game to Mauresmo from the off and manufacturing a succession of break points as she worked her opponent around the court.

Mauresmo stood firm on her first two service games, but lost the the third when Henin-Hardenne earned herself three break opportunities and cracked the Frenchwoman's serve with a wonderful back-hand pass.

The Wimbledon and Australian Open champion dug deep to use her superior power to break back and level the set at 4-4, but the Belgian used her classy backhand to snap the Mauresmo serve once again.

Henin-Hardenne then played a flawless service game to take the first set 6-4.

She maintained the momentum at the start of the second set, breaking serve in the first and fifth game, but on each occasion she was pegged back by Mauresmo.

The two players traded blows in a series of intense rallies in the middle of the set as they searched for a breakthrough and it was Henin-Hardenne who earned another break to go 4-3 up.

She held serve and then broke the Mauresmo serve for the sixth time in the match to close out a thoroughly deserved victory.

Lay-off

"She played better than me and I just wasn't able to play at the same level as I did yesterday or on the way to the semi-finals," said Mauresmo, who had a 10-day lay-off because of a shoulder injury before the tournament and was taken to three sets in three of her four matches on the way to the final.

"She took her chances and I had used up a lot of energy to get here."

Henin-Hardenne is the first player since Martina Hingis in 2000 to win the Championships and end the year as number one.

She is also the first player since Steffi Graf in 1993 to reach all four Grand Slams finals and the WTA Championships final in the same year, and only the fifth ever.

The Belgian won the French Open but lost to Maria Sharapova in the U.S. Open final.

Henin-Hardenne earned $1 million for Sunday's win, while Mauresmo received $500,000.

Mauresmo will be at number three in the new rankings with Sharapova in second position.


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Henin-Hardenne will replace Mauresmo as world number one in the end-of-year rankings.

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