MELBOURNE, January 30 – Defending champion and top seed Serena Williams won her fifth Australian Open title when she beat a brave Justine Henin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 on Saturday.
Williams won a tight first set then had to hold off a charging Henin to deny the Belgian a fairytale ending to her tennis comeback in a thrilling two hours seven minutes final on Rod Laver Arena.
The American claimed her 12th Grand Slam title with the win, putting her equal with fellow American Billie Jean King on the list of all time Grand Slam winners.
But she was made to work hard for it by a tenacious Henin, playing only her second tournament since coming out of an 18-month retirement and needing a wildcard to play the tournament.
In the end it was the sheer power of Williams that won out as her huge serves and booming groundstrokes eventually wore Henin down and forced costly errors.
Williams served better than Henin throughout, making 64 percent of her first serves as opposed to Henin’s 55 percent, with many of those unplayable.
Henin showed, however, that she will be a real force on the tour later in the year and will be a strong chance to add to her seven major titles at the three remaining Grand Slams.
Williams opened the match with a swinging ace but struggled after that, her first two service games lasting eight minutes each.
Henin had her chances to break but it was the Belgian who cracked first, losing her next service game to love to give Williams the advantage.
Henin had another chance in the next game, which Williams saved but the American couldn’t save yet another when serving at 4-2 and the set was back on serve.
Games went with serve until 4-5 when Henin sent down two double faults to give Williams set point, which she took when a backhand from Henin clipped the net cord and landed just wide.
Williams came out attacking at the start of the second and had her chance to break Henin and take a 2-0 lead when she had 15-40, but Henin fought back to save her serve and then broke Williams to love in the next game.
Williams showed just why she is such a champion when she broke right back to level the set at 2-2 only for Henin to attack again at 3-3 and break the defending champion for the second time in the set.
She then held to love and broke Williams to love to win 10 consecutive points and five straight games to even the match up at one set apiece.
Henin kept the momentum going as she won her opening serve to love and had Williams at 15-40, but the American stopped the flow, held serve and then broke Henin to take an early advantage in the decider.
Henin came right back, breaking Williams on her second break point to put the set back on serve, only to lose her next serve when her trademark backhand sailed long.
Williams then held to go ahead 4-2 and broke again as Henin appeared to tire.
The American then came out and served two aces on her way to 40-0 and three championship points.
Henin saved one but couldn’t save the next as a poweful Williams backhand left the Belgian stranded on the baseline.