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Henin-Hardenne wins WTA Charleston title
Updated: 2005-04-19 10:41

Justine Henin-Hardenne cemented her comeback from illness and injury Sunday with a straight-set victory over second-seeded Elena Dementieva in the 1.3 million-dollar WTA clay court tournament.

Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium poses with the winner's cup after defeating Elena Dementieva of Russia during the final of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina. [AFP]

The former world number one from Belgium, now ranked 34th in the world and unseeded at this prestigious tier one tournament, defeated Dementieva 7-5, 6-4 in just her second start of 2005.

Henin-Hardenne's determination was evident as she battled back from a 3-5 deficit in the opening set, winning eight of the next nine games for a 7-5, 4-1 lead.

"I think it was a great match," Dementieva said. "I think it was pretty close. I could win, but I just missed some opportunities in the first set when I was 5-3 up, and I just didn't take risks."

Indeed Dementieva, ranked fifth in the world, kept up the pressure, holding a set point against Henin-Hardenne's serve in the 10th game of the opening set that she surrendered when Henin-Hardenne's forehand, originally called wide, was ruled by the chair umpire to have kissed the line.

Henin-Hardenne held in that game to level the set at 5-5, broke and held again to wrap up the set with a forehand winner on her first set point.

Dementieva gave up the first game of the second set with a double fault on break point, but immediately broke back for 1-1.

Then came another streak of three games for Henin-Hardenne, before Dementieva started to claw her way back.

The Russian, playing in her first final of 2005, put together her own string of three games in a row to level the set at 4-4 before surrendering another service break.

Serving for the match at 5-4, the Belgian gave herself three match points with an ace for 40-0. She netted a forehand on the first, and could only watch as Dementieva blasted a fohand winner on the second, finally lifting the title as Dementieva found the net with her forehand.

It was Henin-Hardenne's second Charleston title, after a victory over American Serena Williams in the 2003 final.

Henin-Hardenne claimed her first title since the Athens Olympics last August, and her first title on the regular WTA Tour circuit since winning at Indian Wells, California, in March of 2004.

That Athens gold medal was a rare bright spot in Henin-Hardenne's 2004 season, which started optimistically with a victory at the Australian Open but unravelled as she was hampered by a lingering viral illness.

After her Olympic triumph she was ousted in the fourth round of the US Open, and didn't play for the rest of the year. Her hopes of defending her Australian Open crown were dashed in January when she hurt her knee, only returning to action at Key Biscayne in March.

Henin-Hardenne joined Iva Majoli as the only unseeded champions here and became the second unseeded player to win a Tier I title this year. Countrywoman and rival Kim Clijsters, also on the comeback trail, did it twice at Indian Wells and Miami.

"I never thought about winning this tournament when I arrived here," Henin-Hardenne said. "Every time I go on the court it's to win the match, but I was very focused on my first round and then my second round, and I just went step by step. But I could never imagine that I would play this level for my first tournament on clay and then win this tournament."

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