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Henin on course for title defence

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CLINICAL SHOW: Maria Sharapova was at her best as she disposed of Anna Chakvetadze.
CLINICAL SHOW: Maria Sharapova was at her best as she disposed of Anna Chakvetadze.

Downs Ana Ivanovic to meet Maria Sharapova in the final

MADRID: Justin Henin remained on course for a successful defence of her WTA Championships crown when she secured her place in the final against Maria Sharapova with a spectacular 6-4, 6-4 victory over Ana Ivanovic on Saturday.

The World No. 1 was put under heavy pressure by the 20-year-old Serbian in the first set but she held her nerve to save seven of nine break points and responded with three breaks of her own to clinch the opener.

She went 3-0 up in the second and although Ivanovic refused to give up without a fight, the Belgian raised her game to new heights as she wrapped it up in straight sets.

Winning streak

The victory extended Henin’s winning streak to 24 matches and put her in her 11th final out of 14 events entered this year.

Sharapova, who won the prestigious end-of-season tournament in 2004 and reached the semifinals of the last two editions, overpowered fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-2, 6-2 in the first semifinal.

The 20-year-old’s season has been disrupted by a succession of injury problems and she was unable to defend her titles in Zurich and Linz because of a shoulder complaint.

However, she has been in impressive form in Madrid this week, and powered to victories over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ivanovic on her way to the semifinals.

Chakvetadze, who had lost all five of her previous official encounters against Sharapova, made a confident enough start but began to falter in the third game, double faulting to gift her opponent a break. Sharapova pressed home her advantage with another break in the fifth after a fine passing shot and a pin-point return on to the baseline.

The former World No. 1, who won the tournament on her debut appearance as a 17-year-old in 2004, wore her compatriot down as she stretched her across the width of the baseline and took the set 6-2. Chakvetadze grew increasingly frustrated and surrendered her serve once again at the start of the second set after another double fault and could do nothing to stop Sharapova easing into a 4-0 lead.

Both players had five break opportunities in the match but Sharapova took four of hers while Chakvetadze was unable to take any.

Earlier in group play, Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, the mid-tournament replacement for an injured Serena Williams, beat third-ranked Jelena Jankovic when the Serb retired in the second set because of a virus. Bartoli led Jankovic 6-1, 1-0 when the Serb retired.

Daniela Hantuchova defeated No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6(7), 6-0 to complete the group play.

The results: Semifinals: Maria Sharapova bt Anna Chakvetadze 6-2, 6-2; Justin Henin bt Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-4.

Earlier results: Yellow group: Marion Bartoli bt Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 1-0 (retd.).

Red group: Sharapova bt Ivanovic 6-1, 6-2; Daniela Hantuchova bt Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6(7), 6-0. — Agencies

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