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Lawn Tennis: Magnificent Mauresmo ends Sharapova's dream; WIMBLEDON 2006.

Byline: BY JIM VAN WIJK Daily Post Correspondent

WORLD number one Amelie Mauresmo battled her way to the Wimbledon final for the first time, where she will meet Justine Henin-Hardenne on S at u rd ay.

The Australian Open champion - who had reached the semi-final on each of her last three visits to the All England Club -overcame former champion Maria Sharapova in an enthralling contest on Centre Court 6-3 3-6 6-2 in a match which lasted almost two and a quarter hours.

Henin-Hardenne, meanwhile, triumphed in two tough sets, 6-4 7-6 (7-4), over Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters, the number two seed.

It was Mauresmo's performance, though, which captured the imagination yesterday afternoon, as the 27-year-old produced a gutsy display to wrestle back the match after Sharapova, winner here in 2004, had forced a decider.

Mauresmo, the French number one seed, had looked to be cruising early in the second set at 3-1 and 40-love up.

But ice-cool Russian Sharapova, 19, hit back to turn the match in her favour with a fine array of shots from the baseline.

Mauresmo regained her composure in the tense finale, which she controlled to take the sting out of the fourth seed's power game.

The Wimbledon top seed now hopes to make it a memorable double for France this weekend, as Les Bleus take on Italy the World Cup final on Sunday.

"I was relieved at the end because I had to come back strong, and am very happy," said Mauresmo.

"Now I finally get to play for the trophy.

"I am expecting a tough one against Justine because she is playing great tennis and is aggressive."

The top seed added: "I hope it is a big weekend for France."

Henin-Hardenne, meanwhile, will be out to claim the only Grand Slam title which has eluded her, having finished runner-up at SW19 in 2001.

Clijsters, the reigning US Open champion, had started their 22nd career clash the brighter, but in the end had no answer to her compatriot's consistency.

French Open champion Henin-Hardenne, 23, said: "It is more about the nerve than the tennis at this stage and I am very pleased with the way I handled it.

"There is no option but to be aggressive on grass because it is such a quick surface.

"But I'm getting better at it now, and I am really ha to have another chance to win this title."

She is now 12-1 ahead having won eight of the last 11 meetings with Clijsters, including their semi-final at Roland Garros last month and another at Eastbourne two weeks ago.

Clijsters said: "I've been disappointed with the way I have played against her in previous matches - but this was better. I'm happy enough to have played much better the last few months. That is more important to me than the prize money."

Mean while Martina Navratilova exited Wimbled on for the last time, having failed to break the record for the most titles.

The tennis legend, who said earlier this week that this would be her last Wimbledon, equalled the record set by Billy Jean King when she teamed up with Leander Paes to win the mixed doubles three years ago.

Navratilova, who turns 50 in October, had two chances to set a new mark but yesterday lost in both the women's doubles and the mixed.

With South African partner Liezel Huber she lost 6-4 4-6 0-6 to Chinese fourth seeds Zi Yan and Jie Zheng in the women's doubles quarter-finals.

And, with Mark Knowles, she went down 5-7 1-6 to Andy Ram, of Israel, and Russia's Vera Zvonareva in the third round of the mixed event.

Her Wimbledon haul comprises nine singles, seven doubles and four mixed doubles titles.

In a professional career spanning more than 30 years she claimed 18 Grand Slam tournament wins, a record 167 singles titles and 174 doubles titles.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 7, 2006
Words:650
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