Two weeks of hard-fought tennis have culminated into just one match. Previous results throughout the tournament are a distant memory and all that matters to viewers and critics of the game is how you are viewed when you walk off the court after this match.
That is the intense pressure and scrutiny that both Serena Williams and Justine Henin face as they prepare for the women’s final of this year’s Australian Open which will take place on Saturday night. Both women have endured some difficult matches, as well as some relatively trouble-free matches throughout the tournament.
But this year’s final has ‘classic’ written all over it and is set to be one of the most exciting women’s Grand Slam finals for quite some time. Williams and Henin are considered two of the best female players in the history of the game. They have played each other thirteen times with Williams slightly in front on the head-to-head count (7-6).
Yet even though they have met so many times over the past decade, they have never met in the final of a Grand Slam. So it will be fascinating to see who will best be able to cope with the big game atmosphere and who will be able to settle down the quickest when the match begins.
These two fine tennis players have been the best throughout the tournament so far. But it is interesting to note that they each had very different semi-final victories.
Williams won her match in two tiebreak games (7-6, 7-6) and had to toil extremely hard in a tight contest against China’s Na Li. After numerous scares throughout the match, it took some big serves and some powerful ground strokes from Williams to eliminate the 16th seed. Li was relentless as she used her accurate backhand to dictate rallies from the baseline, but unfortunately wasn’t able to break the powerful serve of Williams.
In complete contrast, Henin was a woman on a mission. The Belgian dismantled the other Chinese semi-finalist, Jie Zheng, in a dominant straight sets display (6-1, 6-0). Henin was back to her blistering best, highlighted by some magnificent winners using her famous one-handed backhand stroke. Zheng was totally outclassed by Henin, who seemed to be in a completely different league to the Chinese player.
Williams is the queen of the hard court surface and her record proves that. In their five matches on hard surfaces, Williams leads Henin 4-1 in the head-to-head count. But maybe what is possibly even more impressive is that Serena has won four Australian Open singles titles already. A fifth would take her to second on the list of Australian Open titles won by a female player.
For Henin, a victory in Saturday’s final would complete the dream start to her professional tennis comeback. After retiring from the game two years ago, Henin is back and possibly better than ever. After her semi-final performance, there is no reason why she can’t win her second Australian Open title. As a bonus, Henin will have the support of the crowrd, as they realize how special this victory will be if she pulls it off.
But despite a slight scare in her semi-final match and niggling leg injury, Williams is still the one to beat. Her powerful and intimidating game style has aided her success throughout this tournament and for most of her career. And I believe it will be the case against Henin.
Williams will try to beat Henin early in the point. A reported injury to Williams will hinder her ability to cover the court as she usually does, a major disadvantage against someone as agile as Henin. Williams’ first serves will be crucial and she needs to land a high percentage in play.
Williams was my tip before the tournament started and I still think she can win it. It won’t be easy and Henin’s relentlessness will push her right till the very end of the match. But I believe Serena will make it five Australian Open titles and continue her dominance of the hard court.
Winner: Serena Williams (USA) in three sets.