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Saturday, January 30, 2010
Five things we learned from the Serena-Henin final


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Well, that was fun.

The quality of tennis in Serena Williams' win over Justine Henin at the Australian Open wasn't the greatest, but the drama was hard to top. Williams won the final 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 to claim major No. 12 and thus tie Billie Jean King for sixth on the all-time list. Here are five things we learned from their wacky two-hour tussle in Melbourne.

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They were ready from the outset

We should have known we were in for a memorable night when Williams opened the encounter with an ace. In a gripping first game that lasted eight minutes, Henin blew a break point by shanking a second-serve return, and Williams hit perhaps the worst passing shot of her career, a forehand in which the ball took one bounce prior to hitting the net. The first changeover came in the 22nd minute.

The serves weren't working

As usual, Williams hit big serves at crunch time. Averaging about nine aces prior to the final, the 28-year-old thumped a dozen. But, perhaps a testament to the returns on show, Williams claimed only 59 percent of points behind the first serve.

Henin served poorly for the third straight match, at 50 percent. Six double faults didn't help.

Serena can be streaky

Williams probably set a dubious personal record Saturday, losing 15 straight points from the end of the second set to the start of the third. (No such records are noted.) Further, earlier in the second she dropped eight in a row. Serena let the Belgian off the hook when, up a set, 1-0 and holding two successive break points, she misfired on two straight shots.

The encounter featured 11 breaks and 27 break chances.

Henin stuck to her plan

When Henin returned to the tour following a 20-month hiatus, she vowed to be more aggressive. There was no deviating from the plan Saturday, which was surprising. Henin, one of the smallest players on the tour, hardly hit one of her famed slices and, after winning eight of nine points at the net in the second set, made just four approaches to the net in the third, winning one.

She was content to slug it out with Williams, trying to keep the ball down the middle to open the court.

Three-set matches are fun

Hard to believe, but Henin was involved in the last women's final that went the distance at a major, at Wimbledon in 2006. And like Saturday, she was on the wrong end, losing to now-retired Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. The previous women's final that went three sets in Melbourne featured Serena in 2005. Williams downed Lindsay Davenport 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.

It's about time we get a three-set women's final in New York -- the last was in 1995.