Justine Henin was number one in the world when she retired, and she came to Australia definitely wanting to show she was still number one. She very nearly did.
Serena Williams, having played twelve matches (singles and doubles) to get to the finals, wrapped in bandages, struggling visibly in past matches, came to the court a favorite mathematically only. Ranked number one since Henin’s departure, Williams had to face a renewed Justine Henin, fresh mentally and physically after a 20-month layoff and playing as well as ever.
Yet Serena survived. Beaten and seemingly broken in the second set, Williams revived herself halfway through the third set, and took control of the match. Henin scored fifteen points in a row to end the second set and open the third. It seemed Henin had an answer for everything Williams tried, while Williams’ biggest weapon, her serve, stopped working for her.
But halfway through the third set, Williams found something more inside herself, reversed the tide, and took her second consecutive Australian Open championship, the fifth of her career.
An ESPN reporter asked Serena Williams after the match what is was like to play Henin again, and how Williams dealt with Henin’s new style.
“It was really cool,” Williams replied. “You forget how she plays but she kind of plays a lot the same so you get used to that and get used to her game and she’s so good, so it’s like you gotta be ready for everything.
She was taking the ball early, but I saw a lot of her matches so I wasn’t surprised, I was just desperately hoping to get my feet moving.”
The New Justine Henin: Fast and Aggressive
Henin came out playing her new, aggressive style. No longer defending the baseline, Henin was moving in on every shot, charging the net whenever possible, and taking the game to her opponents. Henin used her great mobility to run down or cut off every shot, forcing her opponent to hit winners on every stroke.
Williams came to the game with less mobility, perhaps less technique, but incredible power and will to win. With her gigantic first serve and her ability to blast balls past opponents, Williams was ready for the new Justine Henin.
Henin made Williams work hard for every service game. Henin was returning the serve as hard as it went out. But her own serve was weak and inaccurate, and after trading breaks, Williams broke Henin in the final game to take the set 6–4.
The second set started with the pair trading breaks, but Williams serve was losing power and accuracy. Henin was taking control of her opponent’s service games by returning the serves harder than Williams could hit them. Henin was hitting with unbeatable accuracy, threading the ball through the smallest holes in Williams’ defense.
Henin also started hitting her serve in this set. As her aggressiveness and accuracy, Williams seemed to lose confidence.
In the sixth game of the set Henin fought off three break points to hold, and then took the next three games. Serena looked to be on the run.
Serena Fights Back
Williams fought back to break Henin in the third game of the final set. She pumped her fist, roared; she seemed to be trying to pump up her emotions to sustain her through the match. But Henin deflated her by breaking right back at love.
The next game was the turning point. Henin took control early, scooping up a drop shot and lobbing it back inches over a leaping Williams’ outstretched racket. The Henin hit a double fault. This seemed to give Williams time to catch her breath. On the next point Williams hit a backhand up the line on a second serve for a winner, and break point. Henin then missed a backhand giving Serena the lead again.
Serena ended the next game with a second-serve ace after her first-serve ace was called out. At that point it was clear that Serena had found her inner strength. Williams won the next game for a double break lead, as Henin double-faulted, and missed some shots. It seemed Henin was deflating, as she had deflated Williams earlier.
Williams described how she got herself back in the match after losing fifteen straight points.
“I thought, I’ve just got to man up, you know? This I my chance and no matter what ,I just have one more set and just get through it, and I did. I was thinking, ‘Okay Serena you had can have some days off. Just get through it,’ and I did, and I was so happy to win.
Serena served out the match in dominating fashion: she opened with an ace, then a serve so strong Henin could not get the return in, then another ace. Henin got one point when a desperation stab trickled over the net and hit the line, and Williams came back with a big serve and a forehand winner on the return: Game Set Match and Championship.
The Australian Open Title is Serena Williams’ twelfth Grand Slam singles’ title, tying her for sixth with Billy Jean King and Suzanne Lenglen. Justine Henin is twelfth, with seven wins.
Williams said she was thrilled to have tied the famous Billy Jean King in wining twelve Grand Slam titles.
“It’s so cool—finally,” she said. “That was my goal, but I didn’t want to say it was my goal. Eeven to be mentioned in the same breath with her is awesome.
"Now I’m focused on doing what she was able to do off the court, because she’s such an amazing person.”