Aussie Open women's final preview
Women’s final: No. 1 Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin
The championship match in the women’s draw offers a grand stage for the renewal of one of the most intense rivalries in our sport. Serena Williams and Justine Henin have played 13 times. The American has a 7-6 edge, but Henin was the dominant player in their meetings prior to her retirement. The Belgian took three of their last four matches before Henin abruptly walked away from the game after losing in the second round of a WTA event in Berlin in May, 2008.
If you’re looking for guidance from their head-to-head encounters for how the final might play out, there are other numbers that are essentially neutral. The players have spilt their four meetings with a title on the line and Henin owns a slim four to two advantage in Grand Slam events. Williams and Henin will also be making some personal history in Melbourne. This match will mark the first time they’ve met in a final of a major.
Henin has been on a remarkable run during the fortnight Down Under. While Kim Clijsters demonstrated it was possible for a player to move directly from a tennis hiatus to a Grand Slam championship last year at the U.S. Open, Henin’s achievement is highly impressive.
When the Australian Open draw was released, many of the pundits predicted Henin would be bounced in the second round by fifth-seeded Elena Dementieva. The former world No. 1 won that match in straight sets, announcing her comeback was for real.
Henin can only hope her outstanding performance in the semifinals is a preview of what she has in store in the final. Henin destroyed Zheng Jie of China 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes -- the shortest women’s match played in the tournament so far.
But a closer inspection of the semifinal stats reveals some reasons for concern for the 2004 Australian Open Champion. Henin has struggled with her serve throughout the Australian Open, only landing 53 percent of her first serves against Jie. She will need to raise that number against Williams, who will be poised to attack Henin’s second serve. While Henin won 10 of her 13 net approaches in the semifinal, she’ll have to move forward more carefully knowing that Serena is capable of dialing up a stellar passing shot with the Belgian waiting in the front of the court.
The questions for Williams surround her health: just how much does her heavily-wrapped right leg hurt? While the world No. 1’s movement hasn’t been exceptional in her recent matches, the top seed has moved well enough to pick up the points she has needed. If Serena was in extreme pain, she could have opted out of the doubles draw. Nevertheless, the Williams sisters won the doubles title on Friday at Rod Laver Arena. Now Serena is looking to pick up another Grand Slam championship trophy.
Williams showed her tenacity in rallying from a set and 4-0 down to defeat Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals. There’s no doubt that Serena has a huge advantage over Henin in the final with her dynamic serve. If the American can find her sync from the baseline and dictate the significant rallies, Williams will have a winning equation for her fifth Australian Open singles title.