Remembering: Justine Henin Beats Maria Sharapova In a 2007 Clash of the Titans

On the eve of the WTA Finals in Singapore, Last Word on Sports Tennis Analyst Martin Etheridge takes a look back at the memorable final of 2007 which pitted the reigning World number 1, Justine Henin, against the darling of the centre court, Maria Sharapova…

The 2007 Sony Ericsson Championships provided a fantastic final to end it’s best of the elite event in Madrid.

The final was a showdown between reigning World number one and defending Champion Justine Henin and former Wimbledon and U.S. Open Champion Maria Sharapova. It was a rematch of the 2006 U.S. Open final that saw Sharapova take the title in straight sets. However going into the final, Henin led their head-to-head series by 5-2.

Justine Henin was gunning for her tenth title in 2007 whilst Sharapova was on the comeback trail following an injury-laden year. It was a final for all fans to savour.

The final started with both players holding serve, each looking very nervous to hit the ball–it was a big final with high stakes. Henin hit the first punch by breaking Sharapova to take a 2-1 lead, but the Russian was determined not to let the Belgian take a huge psychological advantage and broke back straight away.

Each player continued to show signs of nervous tension and hit a lot of errors; but amongst the errors were a lot of fine tennis. Sharapova took a 6-5 lead and, with Henin serving to stay in the first set, she launched a bid to take the set. Henin took a hard battering from the Russian racket and fought hard to stay in the rallies. The tension was huge as she served four double faults and saved seven set points. However, Sharapova intensified her attack and took the first set 7-5 on her eighth set point.

The second set saw Sharapova save her opening service game by saving four break points against her racket. Her determination shone hard as she won the game with an amazing forehand crosscourt passing shot which left Henin standing at the net. Each player attacked her opponent with guile and guts, and each manged to level play at 4-4. At this point, Henin attacked Sharapova with an increased onslaught that saw her hit the net hard to strike some amazing volleys. She had gained control of the rallies and she took the break of serve. However, Sharapova dug deep and broke back to a cheering Madrid crowd who were loving the encounter. The match had a feel of a classic and everyone wanted it in the stadium. At 5-5 Henin took the initiative not wanting to risk the loss of her title and struck again at the Sharapova serve. It was a vital break and psychological blow to the Russian´s mind frame. Henin served out the set and levelled play at one set apiece with a 7-5 win. Sharapova´s lack of strength and mental agility gained through winning matches had started to become evident and many felt that her opportunity to win the title had gone, now that the final had entered into a third set.

The final set saw Henin take advantage of a mentally tired Sharapova. The Russian tried in vain to stay with the Belgian but the World number one had started to hit with confidence and decrease her unforced errors. Sharapova was hitting nervously and not confident enough to unleash her thunderous groundstrokes like she had done in Flushing Meadows 2006.

Henin took an early break and consolidated it to lead 3-1. Undeterred, the focused Russian put all her effort into saving the Championships and levelled play at 3-3. The effort had taken its toll on Sharapova and Henin counter-punched her way to yet another immediate break of service. It was a punch that broke Sharapova´s spirit; her frustration was evident as she continued to fight and strike the ball for all she was worth – but she could not hit the clean winners that would put Henin away in the match.

At 5-3 in the final set, Sharapova served to stay in the Championship. It was a valiant effort but Henin was playing with heart and showed no visible signs of fatigue. She had the mental edge and it continued to frustrate the Russian racket.

Henin took the Championship on her fifth match point. It was an impressive match that ended a fantastic week of tennis that had seen many ups and downs for all its participants.

Once the trophies had been presented, Sharapova acknowledged the fantastic year Henin had played and that it was her honour to play her in the finals. An emotional Henin said it was good to have the ´old´ Sharapova back on court.

Henin ended the year with her tenth title. Few people would bet against her doing the same in 2008. Sharapova, on the other hand, would look forward to 2008 having finished 2007 on a high note and on her way back to reigning supreme once again.


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