Top seed Justine Henin-Hardenne saved a match point on her way to beating Monica Seles 4-6 7-6 7-5 to win the seventh title of her career at the Dubai Open on Saturday.
There was little between the players throughout the two hour 45-minute battle, although it was fourth-seeded American Seles who held the slightest advantage.
Her pounding groundstrokes and fine placement played a major part in her challenge, but her willingness to come to the net and volley was only partially successful.
Belgium’s Henin-Hardenne, winning her title since October, threatened with both a penetrating backhand and forehand, but she was let down at sometimes crucial stages by a serve that generated 12 double-faults.
The shortcomings of both players, however, were easily overshadowed by the fiercely competitive contest. They produced countless thrilling rallies of the highest quality, and the outcome remained in the balance until the final point.
“It was an unbelievable match,” said Henin-Hardenne. “Physically it was hard for me at the end of the first set, beginning of the second.
“I was tired from yesterday and it was hard for me to play the game I like to play. At the second set, when I had to because I had a match point against me, I played good tennis. Then it was a great third set. On the important points I played well.”
It was Seles who took the first set by winning the final four games, assisted by two double-faults from her Belgian opponent at 5-4. In the second set, a fourth double-fault gave Seles a break to lead 3-1, but she immediately dropped her own serve to love.
The American’s best chance of victory came when she led 5-4, and two consecutive double-faults and a forced backhand error gave Seles a match point. But a long rally which ended in a netted double-handed backhand brought the score to deuce, and Henin-Hardenne dominated the tiebreak.
In the deciding set, it was Seles who struggled but then served for the match. She saved a break point with Henin-Hardenne leading 3-2, recovered from 0-40 to hold for 4-4, and then broke to lead 5-4 when the Belgian struck her 12th double-fault.
But Henin-Hardenne rose to the challenge, broke Seles to level for 5-5, and then broke again for the match, closing out the victory on her fourth match point.