Henin battles back to retain title in epic final

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MADRID, Nov 11 (Reuters) World number one Justine Henin battled back from a set down to overcome Maria Sharapova 5-7 7-5 6-3 and retain her WTA Championships title in an epic struggle at the Madrid Arena today.

The 25-year-old Belgian had to draw on every ounce of her renowned reserves of grit and determination to shake off Sharapova in a thrilling match that lasted three hours 24 minutes, a record for a three-set final in the end-of-season tournament.

The victory extended Henin's winning streak to 26 matches and made her the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1989 to go unbeaten in the second half of the season, post-Wimbledon.

She also became the first player to claim 10 tour titles in a year since Martina Hingis won 12 in 1997, and the first to break the -million barrier in prize money in a season.

''In the third set it was much more mental and physical,'' said Henin who needed five match points to clinch victory.

''It was a tough last game, we were both dead. What a way to finish the season. I feel it's a dream what's happened this season.'' Henin, who had won five of her previous seven meetings with Sharapova, made a confident start, winning her first service game to love and breaking the Russian's serve in the third.

Sharapova hit back immediately, earning two break points with a powerful forehand pass and slamming a deep return on to Henin's toes to take the game.

EPIC AFFAIR There was nothing to separate the two players until the 12th game, an epic affair in which Henin's serve let her down as she committed four double faults.

Henin managed to hang on and save seven set points before her serve finally cracked, a loose backhand giving Sharapova another chance to break and a miscued forehand allowing the Russian to take the set.

Reuters SBA VP0035

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