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Henin Completes Middle Eastern Sweep

Justine Henin completed a sweep in the Middle East, following up her Dubai title with a victory in Doha.

Published March 03, 2007 12:00

Henin Completes Middle Eastern Sweep
Justine Henin

DOHA, Qatar - Heading into the final of the $1.34 million Qatar Total Open on Saturday, Justine Henin had just one blemish in her record in the Middle East, a semifinal loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova at the same event three years ago. So it was only fitting that she would have her guard up; the Belgian improved to 22-1 lifetime in the region with a comprehensive straight set win against the Russian, completing the Middle Eastern double, having claimed Dubai last week.

The championship battle between the tournament's Top 2 seeds actually began in Kuznetsova's favor; the Russian broke easily in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead, which seemed daunting considering how easily she herself held serve her first three tries. But the top-seeded Henin regrouped, reeling off six games to steal the set and grab an early second set lead. It was one-sided from there as the Belgian got her 14th win in their 15 meetings.

"Sveta was putting a lot of pressure on me," Henin said. "I was down in the first set but I changed tactics, went up to net much more, and then I started to take control of the match."

Henin's near-perfect record in the Middle East includes a 16-0 tally in Dubai, winning there in 2003, 2004, 2006 and just last week, and now a 6-1 mark here.

She always seems to bring out her best in this region, form that helped her in overcoming several early round scares. She overcame a 5-2 second set hole and a pair of set points in the tie-break in a 62 76(9) second round victory over Alicia Molik, a match point at 5-4 in the third set during a 36 64 75 victory over Patty Schnyder in the quarters, then another three-setter against Jelena Jankovic in the semis. It was by no means an easy road to the final for the world's No.2.

"It's a great feeling; I'm very proud to have won here and now I'm getting my confidence back after the break," Henin continued. "It is amazing to have won this tournament, and this victory gives me a lot of confidence."

Henin won her second title in three tournaments so far this year. She was out of Australia due to personal reasons, then made the semifinals at Paris before this two-tournament run. Now, she moves within striking distance of regaining the top ranking from Maria Sharapova. It will be within reach in March: Henin fell in the semifinals of Indian Wells and then in the opening round of Miami; Sharapova won Indian Wells and was a runner-up at Miami.

Kuznetsova was playing her first final since capturing Beijing last September. She has also stood out from the pack in this two-week Middle Eastern season in the past, having reached back-to-back finals in Dubai and Doha in 2004. But a lack of form during Saturday's final left the Russian somewhat disappointed.

"I was playing against myself today," Kuznetsova declared. "I was far from my level of game, and I am very disappointed. Of course Justine played very well, but it's tough for me because I don't seem to know what to do mentally."

Henin is now 31-15 in career Sony Ericsson WTA Tour finals; Kuznetsova has an even 8-8 record in championship matches.

The wildcard pairing of Martina Hingis and Maria Kirilenko came through in a big way in the doubles event, winning the title with a 61 61 defeat of fellow non-seeds Agnes Szavay and Vladimira Uhlirova. Hingis and Kirilenko were also wildcard entrants into Dubai last week, but fell first round; this week, in their second event as a team, they beat No.3-seeded team Janette Husarova and Kveta Peschke and No.2 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Meghann Shaughnessy in making the final, before the easy win over the Hungarian-Czech combo.

The 2007 Qatar Total Open doubles trophy represents Hingis' 37th Tour doubles title. Though better recognized for her singles since returning to the circuit at the beginning of 2006, the Swiss is one of the all-time greats in the team discipline. She is a former No.1 and nine of those 37 wins came at the Grand Slam level, with multiple partners.

Kirilenko brings home her third Tour doubles title, having claimed Birmingham in 2004 (with Sharapova) and Tokyo [Japan Open] in 2005 (with Gisela Dulko).

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