BERLIN -- Justine Henin finally made the clutch shot she needed to get past one of the Williams sisters.
Henin needed three match points to beat Serena Williams 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5) in the final of the German Open on Sunday.
The 19-year-old Belgian won her first title of the year after failing in three previous finals. Henin, the world's eighth-ranked player, had lost all three finals to Serena Williams' older sister, Venus. She beat Serena Williams for the first in three tries.
"Maybe it was a breakthrough - I've always been too nervous in these kind of matches," Henin said of her fifth career title. "But it was a great week, a great experience and I played free in the head."
The third set featured outstanding shots from both players, producing the thrilling finish.
Henin built a 4-2 lead in the third set, but Williams battled back, drawing standing ovations from the crowd.
Henin wasted two match points at 6-5. She hit a drop shot to end the match after 2 hours, 17 minutes.
Williams, playing her first final on clay, struggled with her first serve throughout, although she hit a twisting ace to ward off one match point and send the final into a tiebreaker.
"I think I could have won the match, but I couldn't get a first serve in," Williams said. "It's really strenuous to try and win without it.
"I'm happy, I had a lot of positives in my game, learning experiences. "Now, I'm just going to get ready for Roland Garros."
Williams, who has won two titles this year, lost for just the second time in 20 matches.
Henin has extended Serena or Venus Williams, to three sets in five of her last seven meetings against the sisters. At Amelia Island earlier this year, Henin led Venus Williams 6-2, 4-0 before losing.
On Sunday, Henin handled the pressure, even as Williams won two points in the tiebreaker to pull even at 5-all.
Henin then made her biggest shot of the match. Williams hit a powerful forehand at her feet near the net, and Henin reached and flicked an unreachable drop shot.
"The match was won at this point," Henin said.
Williams said, "That was just a very good shot."
The match started slowly as Williams struggled to keep the ball in play. She seized control in the second set, seemingly hitting nothing but winners.
"It's hard because she hits the ball so hard, makes many mistakes, but there was nothing for me to do - she didn't give me a chance," Henin said.
In the third set, Henin and Williams went shot-for-shot, with Henin drawing most of the crowd support as the underdog.
"I could hear them shouting my name - all players need the support of the crows," Henin said.
Henin beat second-ranked Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals.