The last time she was a top seed, Justine Henin-Hardenne had lost in the final. But that was way back in 2001 in Miami where the Belgian top seed had bowed out with a thigh injury against Sandrine Testud.

This time the Belgian fared one step better as she clawed back from a set deficit to win 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 against third seed Monica Seles in a gripping final of the Dubai Duty Free Women's Open late yesterday.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President, Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman of Emirates airline was the chief guest and gave away the winner's trophy to Henin-Hardenne as the handsome crowd of 4,000 cheered along.

Also present were Sheikh Hasher Maktoum, Dubai Director of Information, along with Abdulrehman Falaknaz, President, Tennis Emirates and Mohammed Al Marri, the Tennis Emirates general secretary, among others.

Dubai was the first final for Henin-Hardenne in 2003. She has been off to an impressive start this year with three semifinals at Sydney, Australian Open and Antwerp this season. Prior to this, Seles was nurturing a 4-1 win-loss record against the Belgian.

After her marathon semifinal against Jennifer Capriati on Friday night, Henin-Hardenne has spent two hours more on the court than what Seles had done during the tournament. That tiredness seemed to show as she lost the opening set 6-4.

But as the match wore on, Henin-Hardenne seemed to dig out and live off the fact that she had won against Seles the last time the two had met in Wimbledon in July last year. She was amazing in her returns and the lethal backhand serving her well on crucial points to give her the edge needed for such a big match.

"Justine was just too good today," was all Seles could say after the grim 2 hours 46 minute battle on centre court.

"I made too many mistakes and did not utilize the chances that came my way," added the American.

And chances were plenty for Seles as she led 5-4 in the second set with her chance to hold serve. "She's a very difficult player to read and she just played better at key times. She made lesser mistakes and was more aggressive, and I was just the opposite," Seles offered.

The third set could have gone either way with Seles coming up with a break in the ninth game to lead 5-4. But there was Henin-Hardenne making things difficult for the world no. 1 as she forced Seles into making far too many mistakes to draw level 5-5.

Henin-Hardenne then went on to hold her serve for a 6-5 lead and then saw Seles hit a forehand into the net for a memorable win for the top seeded player here.

"It was physically very hard for me. But this is a perfect, but belated Valentines' gift for my husband," Henin-Hardenne smiled.

Doubles final: Martina Navratilova/Svetlana Kuznetsova bt Cara Black/Elena Likhovtseva 6-3, 7-6.
Singles final: Justine Henin-Hardenne bt Monica Seles 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.