Thursday, January 28, 2010 Updated: January 30, 2:11 AM ET
Three reasons why Henin and Serena can win
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams, the most dominant player of her generation, and comeback Belgian Justine Henin clash at the Australian Open on Saturday in a finale most tennis fans wanted after the draw was made. It's about time they faced off in a major final.
Williams leads their head-to-head meetings 7-6.
Who'll win? Here are three reasons why each has a chance.
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Fresher legs: Who would have thought it through four rounds? Henin went two-hours plus in succession against the towering trio of Elena Dementieva, Alisa Kleybanova and Yanina Wickmayer. Her physiotherapist, Marc Grosjean, admitted the 27-year-old was pooped following the classic against Dementieva and had problems sleeping. But since Henin's quarterfinal encounter against another bigger foe, she seems fresh. Starting at 11 a.m. instead of featuring in a night session, Henin benefited from ample recovery time ahead of Thursday's semi against Zheng Jie. And that lasted under an hour.
Williams, meanwhile, accumulated time in the quarters and semis, accompanied by strapping to her right thigh and left calf. She took part in Friday's doubles final, too.
Versatile game: No one on the women's tour can do what Henin does. Not even close. Roger Federer is an equivalent among the men. Henin possesses a wonderful slice -- a rarity these days -- and a beautiful backhand and mixes it up by venturing forward. She can get Williams moving. Williams won't be surprised entirely by Henin's all-court game, given their past. However, the first time Williams battled Kim Clijsters on her comeback, the latter pulled off a convincing win at in the U.S. Open semis, line judge controversy or no line judge controversy. It may take a while for Williams to adapt, and by that time, the first set could be gone. Big hitters without any variety have played Williams up to this point, notably Li Na and Victoria Azarenka.
It's destiny: Clijsters was a feel-good story supreme in New York. Back in the game, a mother, and married to an American, Clijsters had more support than any other at Flushing Meadows, barring Federer. You just knew she was going to pull it off.
The stars are aligning nicely for Henin. If Dementieva had forced a third set in the second round, Henin probably loses. Kleybanova led by a set and held two points for a 4-1 lead in the second set, and Wickmayer was close to winning in straight sets.
Serena Williams She's Serena: Henin won't have as much pressure as in previous Grand Slam finals, but when she steps on court and looks across the net, come on, she has to be slightly intimidated by the 11-time Grand Slam champion. This is Serena we're talking about. And note this stat -- Serena has lost just one Grand Slam final to anyone other than a Williams ('04 Wimbledon to Maria Sharapova). Williams also rallied from a big hole in this tournament, down a set and 4-0 to Azarenka. Is that destiny?
As for her health, well, Williams persevered last year at Wimbledon, despite contesting an extended encounter against Dementieva in the semifinals and playing doubles. Serena derailed Venus in the final. No one is tougher.
Cannon serve: Carlos Rodriguez, Henin's longtime coach, singled out Williams' serve Thursday. Williams owns the biggest serve in women's tennis, and the stroke helped the 28-year-old immensely against Li. Williams won 86 percent of points behind the first delivery and chipped in 12 aces. More than a few, as you'd expect, were at key moments.
Williams leads the women's field in aces (averaging almost 10 per match) and first-serve points won. When things aren't going well from the baseline, the serve comes in handy for capturing free points.
"She have big serve, yeah," Li said simply.
Henin doesn't, although she'll vary speeds and place it well. Henin got away with a first-serve percentage of 53 and 45 in her previous two matches. That won't cut it against Williams.
Extra motivation: Williams is still irked by the hefty $82,500 fine she received for threatening a line judge -- who appeared in Melbourne -- at last summer's U.S. Open. Her postmatch comments in the first round suggested as much.
"I don't know anyone who ever got fined like that, and people have said worse and done worse," she told reporters.
Presumably, Williams wouldn't mind sticking it to the folks who handed out the punishment. Williams has a history of performing well after she feels she's been unjustly targeted.
If Williams beats Henin on Saturday, she gets to 12 on the Grand Slam ladder, the same as pioneer Billie Jean King.