Henin fairy­tale v Ser­ena re­al­ity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - AN­DREW DENT

JUSTINE HENIN’S fairy­tale is set to col­lide head on with Ser­ena Wil­liams’ re­al­ity when the pair re­sume their fierce ri­valry in the Aus­tralian Open women’s fi­nal to­day.

Henin is mak­ing her much-her­alded come­back to Grand Slam ten­nis at this year’s Open, where she is hop­ing to em­u­late fel­low Bel­gian Kim Cli­jsters’s feat of winning the 2009 US Open on her re­turn to ten­nis.

If she wins to­day it will be the 27year-old Henin’s eighth Grand Slam ti­tle and her sec­ond Aus­tralian Open, and only the sec­ond time a wild­card will have claimed a Grand Slam (Cli­jsters was the first).

If Wil­liams tri­umphs, the Amer­i­can will claim her fifth Aus­tralian Open crown and equal Bil­lie Jean King’s record of 12 Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles.

Henin has bat­tled her way through to the fi­nal, only re­ally looking comfortable dur­ing her 6-0, 6-1 semi-fi­nal win over China’s Zheng Jie.

She ad­mits she didn’t ex­pect to still be here this late in the tour­na­ment but now that she is, she is at last dar­ing to dream of glory.

Stand­ing fir mly in the way of that dream is de­fend­ing cham­pion Wil­liams, one of the most re­mark­able com­peti­tors in the his­tory of women’s ten­nis.

The two women have met 13 times since 2001, with Wil­liams hav­ing a 7-6 ad­van­tage.

The last time they played was in the fi­nal in Mi­ami in 2008, which Wil­liams won 6-2, 6-0, help­ing con­vince a jaded Henin to walk away from the sport.

“She is a re­ally ag­gres­sive player, but I say it in a pos­i­tive way,” Henin said of Wil­liams.

“She wants to win ev­ery point, she’s re­ally fo­cused, she’s re­ally in­tense.

“We prob­a­bly have a lit­tle bit of the same qual­i­ties in that part of our game.”

But while Henin has been get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter as the tour­na­ment has pro­gressed, Wil­liams has been looking shakier.

Henin f aced her mo­ments of truth in the sec­ond and third rounds, where she first squeezed past fifth seed Elena De­men­tieva in a three-hour epic, then came back from the brink of de­feat against Alisa Kley­banova, winning in three sets.

By con­trast Wil­liams breezed through her early rounds with cus­tom­ary ef fi­ciency be­fore she al­most came un­stuck against Be­laru­sian Vic­to­ria Azarenka in the quar­ter-fi­nals.

She then strug­gled to beat Li Na in the semi-fi­nals, need­ing two tiebreak sets to see off the Chi­nese 16th seed.

“I feel like I re­ally, re­ally peaked against Sam Sto­sur (in the fourth round) – I played amaz­ing,” Wil­liams said.

“Hope­fully I’ ll be able to pull that ten­nis out again.”

The two fi­nal­ists are the most de­ter mined play­ers in women’s ten­nis and al­though they of­ten speak of their re­spect for each other, nei­ther will let the other win without a bat­tle.

“It’s a spe­cial oc­ca­sion, but I see it as an op­por­tu­nity to play the num­ber one player in the world in a Grand Slam fi­nal,” Henin said.

“It’s more than a dream for me, it’s a per­fect chal­lenge and I love this kind of sit­u­a­tion.

“We had great bat­tles in the past, we played our best ten­nis when we played each other,” Henin added.

“I think it’s go­ing to be re­ally men­tal, I mean, the one who wants it more will prob­a­bly win.”

Wil­liams agreed that the men­tal side of the con­test would be cru­cial.

“I think that’s a re­ally good point,” she said.

“It def­i­nitely will be men­tal and who wants it more and wants the ti­tle more and who’s will­ing to go the ex­tra step. I think we both want it, you know, but we’ll just see who’s play­ing bet­ter on Satur­day.” – Sa­paAFP

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