Serena Williams put an end to Justine Henin’s hopes of a Grand Slam title on her return from retirement with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win in the Australian Open final on Saturday.
Williams withstood a determined challenge from Henin before securing her fifth Australian Open title and 12th Grand Slam singles championship overall.
Henin, who had most of the crowd support at Rod Laver Arena, couldn’t match her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters’ feat of winning in her Grand Slam comeback tournament. Clijsters won last year’s U.S. Open on her return from a two—year retirement after getting married and having a baby.
Williams won the last four games Saturday to clinch the final in just over two hours, falling on her back in celebration after match point before shaking hands with Henin at the net.
“It’s good to have her back, it’s exciting,” Williams said of Henin. “She can definitely be No. 1, especially with our ranking system, if she keeps doing well.”
Still, it was an impressive run by Henin. She lost in the final of the Brisbane International tournament to Clijsters two weeks ago.
The unranked and unseeded Henin then beat four seeded players en route to the Australian Open final, including No. 5 and Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva in the second round.
“It’s been a very emotional two weeks for me,” said Henin, who put her hand on her heart as she thanked the crowd for support. “I thought it would never happen to me again. I’d like to congratulate Serena. She’s a real champion.”
Henin saved two break points to hold for 3-3 in a four-game run in the second set, winning 13 of the last 14 points in a dominant finish to the set. She maintained the superiority early in the deciding set, increasing that to 18 of 19 points before Williams held serve to level the third set at 1-1.
Williams, with her right thigh and left knee heavily taped as it had been for much of the tournament, staged her own resurgence, breaking Henin in the next game to go up 2-1. Henin broke Williams’ serve in the next game, but the American broke back in the next to go up 3-2, a lead she never relinquished.
“I thought I was just giving it to her at that point,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to go out like that. I literally said to myself, ‘I need to man up and start playing better.”’
Williams held her serve in the next game with a second-service ace to go up 4-2, then broke again in the next game to take her within a game of the title.
The American holds an 8-6 lead in career meetings between the pair, including a 6-2, 6-0 win in Miami in 2008. At the time, it equalled the worst loss for a reigning No. 1, and Henin quit tennis two months later.
Henin won the Australian Open title in 2004. She quit from the 2006 final with stomach problems while trailing Amelie Mauresmo 6-1, 2-0.
Williams’ 12th singles major matched American great Billie Jean King’s career total. King was at the stadium on Saturday night to take part in a pre-match ceremony to honour the 40-year anniversary of Margaret Court’s four Grand Slam tournament wins in 1970.
“Billie, we are tied,” Williams said. “So I’ve reached my goal.”
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are Williams’ next goal, with 18 majors each.
“Honestly, I’m just doing what I can. I obviously enjoy playing in Melbourne, clearly,” Williams said. “I never thought I could catch up with Martina, because she’s such an amazing champion.”
The men’s doubles final between Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States and Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia was scheduled for later Saturday. The Bryans have won the title here three of the past four years and were losing finalists the two previous years.
The men’s final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray will be held Sunday night, where Murray will attempt to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam major.
The Australian Open is Murray’s 17th Grand Slam tournament, which is how many attempts Federer needed before winning for the first time at Wimbledon seven years ago against Mark Philippoussis.
Murray was beaten 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 in the U.S. Open final in 2008.
Two years later, the now 22-year-old Murray thinks he knows how to end the 74-year drought.
“I’m going to need to play my best match ever,” Murray said Saturday. “That’s what I plan on doing. If I do, I’ve got a good chance of winning.”
Federer played in all four finals last year and will be appearing in his 22nd Grand Slam final overall, an all-time record. He acknowledged that the pressure will be on Murray.
“I know what it takes (to win) and how to do it, which is definitely an advantage,” Federer said. “I don’t feel like the pressure’s really on me having to do it again. I think he really needs it more than I do.”
Federer joked about the British drought after his semifinal win on Friday.
“I know he’d like to win the first for British tennis since, what is it 150,000 years?” Federer joked.
Murray smiled Saturday when told of Federer’s comment.
“I’ve only been alive for 22 and a little bit, but, yeah, it’s been a long time. It’s going to be tough.”