Maria To Meet Justine in Madrid Final
MADRID, Spain - Reigning champion Justine Henin will meet Maria Sharapova in the championship round of this year's Sony Ericsson Championships after both recorded straight-set victories in their respective final four clashes on Saturday. Sharapova saw off the challenge of fellow Russian Chakvetadze in the first semifinal at the $3-million event, before Henin joined her in Sunday's showpiece final with victory over Ana Ivanovic.
The 2004 champion Sharapova came into the event having played just one match since the US Open due to a persistent right-shoulder injury, but has delivered several scintillating performances thus far in the Spanish capital. After a shaky start against Chakvetadze, the No.6 seed soon found her range and quickly reeled off five straight games to take charge of the opening set.
Sharapova served out the opener without too much difficulty and this dominance was carried over into the second set, with the 20-year-old quickly establishing a 4-0 lead. Tournament debutante Chakvetadze entered the contest having lost all five of the pair's previous meetings and despite rescuing some respectability with a battling last few games, it was too little too late as her fellow 20-year-old stormed into the final with a 62 62 victory in just one hour, 14 minutes.
"At the start I wasn't seeing the ball great and I had to save a few break points," Sharapova said." After coming through this I started to serve really well and from here I was on cruise control. It's pretty incredible because if someone told me about two weeks ago that I was going to play the Sony Ericsson Championships I would have been just happy to play, so to be here is great and to be in the final is even better."
The afternoon's second final four encounter pitted the only player aside from Sharapova to have won all her matches in Madrid, Henin, against the ever-improving Ivanovic. Despite losing their two previous encounters, the 20-year-old Serb made the brighter start at the Recinto Ferial de Campo capitalizing on two double faults from her opponent to break serve and move into an early 2-0 lead. However, from here the 25-year-old Henin illustrated just why she is in the midst of a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour-leading 24-match in-streak by reeling off five straight games to take command of the opener, before fending off a late flurry to close out the set.
In contrast to the first set it was Henin racing out of the blocks in the second, breaking serve twice en route to opening up a 3-0 lead. From here though, Ivanovic rallied impressively to claw her way back into contention and level things up at 3-3, only to drop serve once more, before eventually going down 64 64 in one hour, 44 minutes.
"She [Ivanovic] played a very good match," Henin stated. "There were some ups and downs, but I managed to play well on the important points and I'm happy to be in the final for the second year in a row. It is going to be a tough match, she [Sharapova] has got nothing to lose, and although it's been a tough season for her, now she's back at her best level and proved she's a champion."
Henin, the world No.1, will enter the final bidding to become the first player to capture 10 Tour titles in a season since Martina Hingis achieved the feat a decade ago. Having dropped just one set all week, Sharapova will undoubtedly be in buoyant mood, but after losing two of her seven previous contests against the Belgian - the most recent coming 12 months ago in Madrid - she will enter the encounter as the clear underdog.