Google Down the Line!: PREVIEW: Australian Open Ladies' Final

Friday, January 29, 2010

PREVIEW: Australian Open Ladies' Final

(1) Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin
Head-to-head: 7 Serena, 6 Justine
Last meeting: Miami (hard), Serena 6-2, 6-0

Just a few thoughts on the Aussie Open ladies' final pitting top seed Serena Williams against unseeded Justine Henin, appearing in only her second tourney since returning to the tour. It's their first meet up at this Slam and it happens to be their first major final battle EVAH. I mean, they couldn't have planned it better if they tried, no?

One of the most intriguing aspects to me about this renewed rivalry is not the obvious physical one (ReRe has the clear advantage there, duh) but the heady stuff, more specifically the mental edge Justine had over ReRe before her retirement and may still have now after almost two years away.

The Belgian had her most successful year on tour in 2007 capturing 10 titles including 2 majors - Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. She impressively defeated ReRe in three consecutive quarterfinals beginning at the French Open and tied up their H2H which was sitting at 6-3 before that run.

Justine, a 7-time major winner, was clearly the dominant lady baller on the WTA tour and grabbed the momentum in this heated rivalry. She managed to match ReRe's on-court intensity but, more importantly, brought the aggression to her which she said was difficult earlier on. "We had great battles in the past," said Justine. "We played our best tennis when we played each other. At the beginning it was quite difficult for me to face Serena. Then slowly but surely I could change it a little more." The Belgian was now forcing the issue in their matches which isn't the easiest prospect when facing ReRe's power plays.

The American exacted some revenge at the Sony Ericsson Open in 2008 dismantling Justine 6-2, 6-0 on her way to the title there. But as we all know, the 27-year old was already on her way out, though a win's a win and should help ReRe in this match where head + heart could make all the difference. "It definitely will be mental and who wants it more and wants the title more and who's willing to go the extra step," said ReRe. The American knows Justine can equal her on-court efforts even admitting she "definitely think[s] of her as a rival" in her presser. No easy words for the prideful 11-time major champ.

Normally, the top seed would have the advantage on this surface because she plays better on hard courts, owning a 4-1 advantage over her Belgian foe, and loves the Aussie atmosphere as evidenced by her four titles here. She looked completely spent after clinching her semifinal against Na Li, however, and hasn't had a day off since winning her fourth rounder (playing doubles and winning the title will do that to ya.) And, based on her obvious mummification (her wrist is now taped up too) she's hurting in more ways than one.

On the flip side, Justine went the distance early in the tourney but managed straight-setters in her last two outings including a 51-minute rout of Zheng Jie in the final four. She looks fresh both physically and mentally and will draw on the belief that she can stand toe-to-toe with ReRe. There's no doubt she's hungry to join the Grand Slam winner's circle again by defeating her greatest rival on one of the biggest stages in tennis.

A lesser lady baller might wilt under the pressure of playing even a bandaged ReRe but not this Belgian. She knows what's up.

Advantage, Justine.

[Photo(s): Getty]

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  1. Justine made it to all four major finals in 2006 not 2007. She didn't play in the AO in 2007 because of her divorce and she lost in the semis of Wimbledon to Bartoli that year.

    Because of Justine's pitiful serve and Serena's capabilities as a returner, I have to give Serena the edge over Justine but I pray that Serena continues her streak of only winning in odd years and that Justine takes the title.

  2. Ah yes - must edit. Thanks Sara.

    I thought Justines serve looked a lot better in the stretch against Zheng and she'll need it to be against ReRe.

    I never count her out but ReRe didn't sound so confident in her presser today. Maybe she's playing it down to take pressure off but it wasn't her usual self.

  3. well, this is a very tricky match.
    Serena has ultimately been solid all the way up until her quarterfinal and semifinal matches. When her serve goes, her game goes as well. But I do think that this doubles win with Venus yesterday really lifted up her spirits, and like in 07 and 09 of the open, really knows how to bring her A game to the finals.

    Justine has looked amazingly fresh and fit throughout the whole tournament. But I have noticed that her serve can really go haywire, especially on important points.

    Overall I have to give the edge to Serena. She is somewhat unpredictable and can never really be count out i.e. the Azarenka comeback.. I think this match is in her hands. If she serves well, stays aggressive and positive, she'll really put pressure on Henin, especially Henin's serve.

    Can't wait for the final tonight!! thank god I live in pacific time too!!!!!

  4. I really hope that Serena wins and equals Billie Jean King's 12 GS singles titles! It would be SO awesome for her! Plus, Billie will be there and you just know how much she LOVES the Williamses (esp. Venus - she's Billie's favorite).

    Go Serena! You just defended your doubles title with your sister. Now defend you singles crown! You can do it! :D


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