Martina Hingis' all-court mastery shone through seven match points today as she rebuffed stubborn Amelie Mauresmo to secure her third straight Australian Open title.
Mauresmo unleashed the power that may yet revolutionize women's tennis, but not as long as Hingis can keep countering with the kind of inspired performance she displayed in a 6-2, 6-3 triumph.
Even before the struggle through all the match points, Hingis came up with two brilliant shots to take a 5-3 lead and set herself up for her fifth Grand Slam title.
Mauresmo, the unseeded 19-year-old from France playing in her first major final, drilled a forehand deep that almost sped by Hingis. But Hingis reached out and caught up to it, and flicked it back almost from behind her back to pass a stunned Mauresmo.
Mauresmo then volleyed another apparent winner crosscourt, only to see Hingis sprint after it and send a forehand pass down the line.
Serving to stay in the match now, Mauresmo opened with an ace, but soon found herself in a duel of wills with the 18-year-old Hingis that lasted through eight deuces.
Perhaps no one in women's tennis can match Hingis in her mental approach to the game, the way she varies her strokes, keeps opponents off-balance and breaks them down point by point.
She showed all that in closing out this match, beginning with a forehand approach volley crosscourt that Mauresmo couldn't touch.
But Mauresmo has plenty of weapons of her own, from the most powerful topspin backhand perhaps ever seen in women's tennis, to a formidable forehand and an impressive resolve to keep fighting.
Every time Hingis seemed to have her beat, in match point after match point, Mauresmo would not quit. Fearlessly, she drilled deep backhands and forehands, went for the angles, kept the pressure on Hingis.
Finally, though, Hingis found her opportunity on the seventh match point and ripped a running forehand that Mauresmo volleyed into the net.
"The last game was just never-ending," Hingis said. "She had match points against her in the first match, so you can see how she came back. She hit some great points on match point.
"I made the big points. This time I was just better. I was more experienced, and that helped me a lot."
Mauresmo, whose ranking will jump from No. 29 to No. 18, showed the potential in beating No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the semis and stunning Hingis with some shots in the final to make a lasting imprint on the sport.
Mauresmo has taken that attitude to a new level, pumping iron in the gym three times a week, building her upper arms and shoulders to the point where she has the strength to wallop one-handed topspin backhands as no other women ever have.
Hingis is almost the opposite, relying not on muscle but on agility, anticipation and variety of shots. She beat Mauresmo from the baseline and at the net, showing off the kind of volleying that has also made a Grand Slam doubles champion.
For those who complain that power is killing men's tennis, with aces flying wild at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, that will most certainly not be the case in the Australian Open final.
No matter who wins Sunday's match between Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, the rallies will be long and the points constructed by baseline craftsmen.
"The one thing I promise you," Kafelnikov said, "it's going to be a long match."
All their matches the past five years have been close, with Enqvist holding a 4-2 lead.
Kafelnikov and Enqvist are hardly wimps on the court, slapping moonballs back and forth. They're line-drive hitters, looking for the corners and sharp angles, working their way toward the net carefully and cautiously.
Enqvist is seeking to be the first unseeded winner at the Australian since Mark Edmondson in 1976.