MADRID, Nov 10 (Reuters) 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 win over Ana Ivanovic today.
The world number one gave a masterclass in how to play the big points while the combative Ivanovic came up short as she converted just four of the 13 break opportunities she had.
The victory extended the Belgian'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 semi-finals of the last two editions, overpowered fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-2 6-2 in the first semi-final.
''It is going to be a tough final, she's got nothing to lose,'' said Henin. ''She's had a tough season but now she's back at her best level and she's a champion.'' Ivanovic was thumped by Henin in the final of the French Open earlier this year but she made an aggressive start this time, holding her serve with ease and then cracking the Belgian's serve with a cleverly disguised cross-court shot.
Henin hit back immediately with a break of her own and although Ivanovic kept the pressure on with some stunning returns the Serbian was unable to take advantage of a succession of break-point opportunities in a marathon fourth game.
NEW HEIGHTS Henin, in contrast, took practically all her chances and needed no second invitation to crack Ivanovic's serve, managing it again in the fifth and seventh games on her way to taking the first set.
There was no let-up from the Belgian in the second set and although Ivanovic recovered from 3-0 down to level at 3-3, the fightback only served to inspire Henin to new heights as she wrapped up an impressive win in an hour and 44 minutes.
Sharapova has struggled with a succession of injury problems this year but she has looked back to her best in Madrid, collecting impressive victories over world numbers two and four Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ivanovic on her way to the semi-finals.
''It's pretty incredible because if someone told me about two weeks ago that I was going to play the Championships I would have been just happy to play,'' said Sharapova. ''To be here is great and to be in the final is even better.'' 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 and wore down her compatriot as she stretched her across the court to take the first set. She ran away with the match in the second as Chakvetadze grew increasingly frustrated.
REUTERS PJ RAI2338