Sony Ericsson Championships: Sharapova sweeps into final for dream match-up with world No 1

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The Independent Online

The Sony Ericsson Championships have the perfect final this afternoon – the world No 1 and defending champion Justine Henin against the blonde who could sell tickets to a dentists' conference, Maria Sharapova.

Henin closed out the finest year of her career with a 6-4 6-4 semi-final victory against Serbia's Ana Ivanovic which extended to 24 matches an unbeaten run stretching back to Wimbledon, while Sharapova, who has slipped in the rankings of late because of injury, briskly saw off her fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-2 6-2.

Henin, who is rewarding herself with a 10-day holiday in South Africa after this, the final women's event of 2007, has lost only four matches while winning 62 in a year which encompassed marriage collapse, family reunion, two Grand Slams and nine other tournament wins. The break has been well-earned.

One of those Slams, the French Open, was easily collected at the expense of Ivanovic, who managed only three games on that sunny afternoon in Paris. A bundle of nerves that day, the 20-year-old Serb has moved onwards and upwards since and presented a demanding challenge to the woman who has swept aside everything set in her path in this event, while Henin was enough below her best to offer Ivanovic hope.

Ivanovic jumped into a 2-0 lead and, in a marathon game of eight deuces, had four break-points for 3-1. At that stage, four games had lasted almost half an hour, but Henin moved up a gear and swept the next five games. Though again frequently in trouble on her serve in the second set, the Belgian used confidence, experience and good fortune with the Hawk-Eye verdicts to telling effect.

Whatever today's outcome, this event has provided a revitalising comeback for Sharapova, who arrived in Madrid having played only one match since the US Open in September because of ongoing concerns about the condition of her right shoulder. "I never thought a couple of weeks ago that I would be even playing here," she said. That the enforced break has done wonders was evident in the aggressive and confident fashion in which she swept through her round- robin group unbeaten.

Chakvetadze has made massive strides this year, winning four tournaments and being hailed by some as the next Sharapova. That she has some way to go was exposed in just 74 minutes. Both are 20 but Maria, burnished by life in the United States, was a country mile more mature and confident and has won all of their six matches for the loss of a single set.