Henin fairytale v Serena reality
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