Final between a proven champion and an enigmatic talent

Henin enjoys a 4-3 record against MauresmoThe Belgian had a tougher road to the final

MELBOURNE: The Australian Open final between Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo Saturday pits a proven champion against an enigmatic talent seeking to shake off her reputation as a choker.

Belgian eighth seed Henin-Hardenne, a winner here in 2004, has four major trophies to her name, while Mauresmo, seeded third, is contesting her first Grand Slam since losing the final at Melbourne Park in 1999.

Henin-Hardenne had the tougher road to the final, with come-from-behind victories over top seed Lindsay Davenport and world No.4 Maria Sharapova.

In contrast, the main barrier to Mauresmo reaching the decider was removed when second seed Kim Clijsters was forced to concede their semifinal after twisting her ankle on the Rebound Ace surface.

While she has remained near the top of the rankings, Saturday's final is her first appearance at a Gland Slam decider in 24 attempts since the 1999 match.

"I've been waiting for this for so long," the 26-year-old said after reaching the final.

But she knows she has her hands full with Henin-Hardenne.

Big-match experience

Henin-Hardenne said she believed her big-match experience would be a factor in the clash. The 23-year-old has lost only one of her five appearances in a Grand Slam decider, at Wimbledon in 2001.

The world No.6 said she was amazed to reach the final because she only travelled to Australia looking for a hit-out as she comes back from injury and a debilitating viral illness that marred her 2005 season.

Henin-Hardenne has now strung together 20 successive victories in Australia during her 2004 and 2006 Australian Open and Sydney International campaigns, last losing Down Under to Venus Williams in the 2003 semifinal here.

The Belgian enjoys a 4-3 winning record over Mauresmo, and has emerged victorious in three of their meetings on hardcourt surfaces, including the 2004 Olympic finals in Athens. - AFP

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