Madrid, Nov 7: World number one Justine Henin began the defence of her WTA Championships singles title with a confident 6-1 7-6 win over Russian Anna Chakvetadze.
The 25-year-old Belgian rattled through the first set in 24 minutes but had to resist a determined fightback by her opponent before winning her opening round-robin match in the yellow group of the 3 million dollars end-of-season tournament yesterday.
Ana Ivanovic, the youngest of the eight players in Madrid, celebrated her 20th birthday with a 6-1 4-6 7-5 victory over world number two Svetlana Kuznetsova in an enthralling encounter in red group.
Ivanovic blew Kuznetsova away in the first set but the gritty Russian levelled and the two players produced outstanding tennis as they slugged it out in the decider, the Serb eventually edging the win with a break in the final game.
''I knew I had to start well because she is such a strong player and I tried not to give her too many chances and it worked well for me,'' Ivanovic told reporters.
''At the end, I tried not to think about the score any more, but I'm really happy I was able to stay calm and break her.'' Maria Sharapova, who won the event on her debut appearance in 2004 but has struggled with injury problems this season, also made a winning start in red group with a 6-4 7-5 victory over Daniela Hantuchova.
Sharapova looked on course for a straightforward win after dominating the first set, but Hantuchova refused to go down without a fight and saved four match points.
''It was great to be out on court and for my first match I thought I did a good job of being solid and concentrating on what I had to do to win the match,'' Sharapova said.
''I didn't worry about the other things like my shoulder I was just worried about winning each point. It felt good.'' Henin, who has won a career-best nine titles this year including grand slams at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open, quickly found her rhythm at the Madrid Arena, speeding around the court to put Chakvetadze under pressure and take the first set.
Chakvetadze put up stiffer resistance in the second set when she found her range on the ground strokes and the players exchanged two breaks apiece until it boiled down to a tiebreak.
It was Henin, however, who found another gear in the decider, unleashing a succession of pinpoint returns to extend her winning streak to 21 matches.
''It's good to win the first match especially in a round robin,'' said Henin. ''It is very important and gives me a lot of confidence.''