Top seed Justine Henin-Hardenne saved a match point on her way to beating Monica Seles 4-6 7-6 7-5 to win the seventh title of her career at the Dubai Open on Saturday.
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There was little between the players throughout the two hour 45-minute battle, although it was fourth-seeded American Seles who held the slightest advantage. Her pounding groundstrokes and fine placement played a major part in her challenge, but her willingness to come to the net and volley was only partially successful.
Belgium's Henin-Hardenne, winning her title since October, threatened with both a penetrating backhand and forehand, but she was let down at sometimes crucial stages by a serve that generated 12 double-faults. The shortcomings of both players, however, were easily overshadowed by the fiercely competitive contest. They produced countless thrilling rallies of the highest quality, and the outcome remained in the balance until the final point.
"It was an unbelievable match," said Henin-Hardenne. "Physically it was hard for me at the end of the first set, beginning of the second. "I was tired from yesterday and it was hard for me to play the game I like to play. At the second set, when I had to because I had a match point against me, I played good tennis. Then it was a great third set. On the important points I played well."
It was Seles who took the first set by winning the final four games, assisted by two double-faults from her Belgian opponent at 5-4. In the second set, a fourth double-fault gave Seles a break to lead 3-1, but she immediately dropped her own serve to love.
The American's best chance of victory came when she led 5-4, and two consecutive double-faults and a forced backhand error gave Seles a match point. But a long rally which ended in a netted double-handed backhand brought the score to deuce, and Henin-Hardenne dominated the tiebreak. In the deciding set, it was Seles who struggled but then served for the match. She saved a break point with Henin-Hardenne leading 3-2, recovered from 0-40 to hold for 4-4, and then broke to lead 5-4 when Henin-Hardenne struck her 12th double-fault.
But Henin-Hardenne rose to the challenge, broke Seles to level for 5-5, and then broke again for the match, closing out the victory on her fourth match point. Henin-Hardenne admitted that the match point could have gone either way during one of the longest rallies of the match.
"It was a long rally and I just tried to play aggressive and to win the point, not making the mistake for sure," she said. "I just played solid and we both ran a lot all over the court. She could have won the point too, but it changed the match."
Despite her defeat, Seles was not too disappointed as she headed home to Florida to prepare for the American hard court season. "Justine just played better at key times, and that was it," she said. "I had a lot of chances today, but it didn't go my way. She became more aggressive and made less errors when it was close, and I went the opposite way.
"The second set was so close and it was emotionally hard when you're so close to winning. It's been a tough one this year with my ankle injury, up and down a little bit, and it's nice to finish this long trip on a good note."
In doubles, Martina Navratilova won her second WTA Tour title of the year with partner Svetlana Kuznetsova, beating Cara Black and Elena Likhovtseva 7-3 7-6. It was the 168th doubles title of her career, and came in addition to her mixed doubles title at the Australian Open last month.
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