Three years ago, Serena Williams came back from injuries and her own “walkabout” to humiliate then No.1 Maria Sharapova to take the Australian Open title. Now Justine Henin faces a somewhat similar task as she takes on Serena in tomorrow’s final.
The last meeting between them was Miami in 2008 which Serena won in impressive fashion 6-2, 6-0. That defeat, followed by Dinara Safina’s win over Henin in Rome, led to Henin’s surprise retirement before the 2008 French Open. Henin’s return to the Australian Open is somewhat surprising considering many still have not truly understood (or forgiven) her bizarre retirement in the 2006 final to Amelie Mauresmo when Henin complained of a stomach ailment.
Henin’s return has been warmly received by fans though you can tell the tour players are less than thrilled even when they say in their press conferences “it’s great to have her (Henin) back on the tour.” Serena would probably be facing Elena Dementieva if Henin weren’t around. And for Serena, that’s probably good news as she is not 100% physically.
Henin, despite getting to the final, is not 100% herself. Aside from some leg issues, her woeful serving percentages have been her undoing throughout the tournament. Henin endured some tight three setters and at times still looks unsure mentally as evidenced by her constant looks up at coach Carlos Rodriguez for support and the obvious hand signals he provides.
And that lack of mental toughness, plus the experience of playing for a Grand Slam, may be Henin’s undoing. Even if Serena arrives on court wrapped up like a mummy, her stellar first serve and aggressive return game should allow her enough cheap points when it counts. And that’s all she’s really needed throughout the last few days. Henin will rely on momentum and if it gets tight, looking up to her coach won’t be enough to withstand the sheer will of Serena who doesn’t need anybody’s help to win matches.
So what do you get when you put Serena at 60% versus Henin at maybe 80%? It won’t be a beatdown ala Sharapova, and it may not have the drama of Dementieva/Henin, but it will see a champion rise again to prove she is the “queen” no matter who returns to claim the throne.
Serena in three sets.