Maria Sharapova will return to the number one
position for the fourth time [GALLO/GETTY]
Maria Sharapova will assume the No. 1 ranking in women's tennis as a result of Justine Henin's retirement.

The WTA Tour announced that Henin, who announced her retirement Wednesday at the age of 25, has asked to be removed from the rankings.

That means Sharapova will automatically become No. 1 when the next rankings are released Monday.

It will be the fourth time the Russian has become No. 1.

She held the top spot for a total of 14 weeks in her career, the last time in 2007.

"The ranking has never been a big deal for me,'' Sharapova said late Wednesday after beating Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of the Italian Open.

"Whether I'm No. 1 or 5, my main goal is just to keep winning tennis matches and the ranking will take care of itself if I keep winning.''

Henin, winner of seven Grand Slam titles, is the first woman to retire while holding the No. 1 ranking.

This is the Belgian's 117th nonconsecutive week in the top spot, making her the sixth longest reigning No. 1 since the inception of the computer rankings in 1975.

After an injury-plagued 2007, Sharapova started off 2008 by winning the Australian Open for her third Grand Slam title, and has compiled a 24-2 record this year.

Source: Agencies