DUBAI, Feb 25: Justine Henin-Hardenne won her 25th career title today when she defeated Maria Sharapova 7-5 6-2 in the final of the Dubai Open.
It was the fourth-seeded Belgian's third Dubai title and her second tournament victory of the year after winning in Sydney and finishing as runner-up at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
''It's an amazing feeling,'' Henin-Hardenne told reporters.
''It's great, because I didn't know really what to expect before coming here after my health problems in Australia.
''It's been a tough week even though I won all my matches in two sets. It's been pretty hard with the rain and the waiting, and it's a great feeling to have two victories already this year, and that gives a lot of confidence.'' She also remains unbeaten in her 12 matches in Dubai after a high quality match in which both players mixed up their game well and produced some very competitive rallies.
Third seed Sharapova, denied her 11th career title in her first final since she won on grass in Birmingham in June, was particularly adventurous in trying her luck at the net with varying degrees of success.
However, the 18-year-old Russian's limitations were exposed in the latter stages when she lacked patience in the rallies and failed to build a winning position.
Both players held easily in the first six games, each giving up just two points on serve. But things changed dramatically after that with almost every game being tightly contested.
Sharapova had to fight off two break points at 3-3, but then broke to lead 5-3 when she hit a drop shot so perfect that it caused her astonished opponent to drop her racquet, and then mis-hit a backhand wide.
Henin-Hardenne, though, responded by denying Sharapova as she served for the set and from 5-5 conceded just one more point.
Sharapova hit the ball long on break point, before the Belgian served out the set to love in exactly an hour.
Henin-Hardenne broke to lead 3-2 in the second set when Sharapova netted a forehand from the Belgian's fierce return.
Having moved exceptionally well throughout the match, Henin-Hardenne made it count the most at 4-2 when she ran down a ball from Sharapova and made a glorious backhand winner to earn a second break.
A dispirited Sharapova made one final effort to rescue the match, but Henin-Hardenne held off two break points before claiming victory.
''I think it was high quality, especially in the first set,'' said Henin-Hardenne. ''Both of us were playing well. Maria put a lot of pressure on myself, especially from the beginning to 5-3.
''I was a little bit too far from my baseline, but as soon as I put one step forward and maybe tried to play a little bit more in the centre she didn't have the angles.'' Since her Birmingham victory last year, Sharapova had lost six straight semi-finals, including those of Wimbledon, the U.S.
Open and the Australian Open, until her win over Lindsay Davenport on Friday put her into this final.
So Sharapova could draw some consolation from her defeat.
''I played great tennis this week,'' she said. ''It was a tremendous effort for me to be able to play two really tough matches yesterday and still play a high level of tennis today.'' ''In the first set it was just one or two balls didn't go my way I guess, and then after that I was physically tired from yesterday.''