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Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Henin beats Chakvetadze in opener; Sharapova gets by Hantuchova

Associated Press

MADRID, Spain -- Top-ranked Justine Henin began her title defense at the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships on Tuesday with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory over Anna Chakvetadze.

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Maria Sharapova returned from a nearly three-week absence to beat Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 7-5 in the red group. It was the sixth-ranked Russian's first win since Aug. 31.

Henin, the French and U.S. Open champion, rallied in the tiebreaker against the seventh-ranked Russian in the first match of round-robin play in the yellow group. Henin has beaten her opponent all three times they have played

"The first match and the final I won [here] last year are very different. But I feel very comfortable here," Henin said. "Being here this week is really motivating and I'm very happy. It reminds me of many things but I try to live in the present because it is absolutely different from last year."

Chakvetadze was making her first appearance in this event. She withdrew from the tournament in Quebec City last week because of an injured right shoulder injury.

The Russian looked rusty with 30 unforced errors, and Henin broke twice to take the first set. Chakvetadze improved in the second and Henin double-faulted to give the Russian an early break.

Henin rallied with consecutive breaks to tie it at 3-3. After trading breaks again to reach the tiebreaker, Chakvetadze hit into the net on the first match point.

Sharapova broke her ninth-ranked opponent in the ninth game before holding serve to take the first set. She then held off a late rally in the second set and converted her fifth match point for her sixth straight win against Hantuchova.

"I think I did a good job just being positive, being tough and not letting [wasted match points] bother you because that can easily be done and things can start going another way very fast," said Sharapova, the 2004 champion.

Sharapova has been hampered by a shoulder injury since the U.S. Open, and had not played since losing to Victoria Azarenka in the third round at Moscow.

Second-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova continued to struggle at the championships and against Ana Ivanovic, who won her third straight over Kuznetsova 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the other red group match.