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Serena captures Aussie crown to emulate King

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:54

Serena Williams drew level with hero Billie Jean King after claiming the twelfth Grand Slam title of her career, beating returning former world No.1 Justine Henin to win the Australian Open.

The American fell to the floor in celebration before sharing a hug with sister Venus after defending her title in Melbourne with a 6-4 3-6 6-2 victory in just over two hours.

“Billie – we’re tied!” said the world No.1 to King, watching from the stands, after claiming her fifth Aussie crown.

Henin had hoped to cap her first return to the sport following an 18-month retirement with a Clijsters-style fairytale win, but Williams proved to be too strong in the closing stages.

In an opening set littered with break points for both players, Williams drew first blood and kept her nose in front for a 4-1 lead despite chances for Henin to break in all three of her service games.

With the crowd firmly behind the Belgian, a muted Serena kept her emotions in check thoughout the match, rarely shrieking during rallies or celebrating between points, and only really letting out a trademark animated fist pump after moving within a game of the title.

The defending champion’s game followed the same theme. Williams played with a much more conservative approach against the Belgian, her reluctance to hit to Henin’s backhand a testament to the respect she has for her second career.

The respect was well-placed. Henin, who has added extra weight to her racket since her return, traded blows from the baseline with the top seed and has not lost her court craft during her time away from the game.

The Belgian leveled the scores after claiming a break of her own in game seven, clinching it with a stunning forehand winner, but Serena stepped up her game with her first hold without fending off break points and clinched the first set with a break in the next game as a Henin backhand clipped the net a floated just wide.

The writing looked to be on the wall for Henin when she faced break points in game two of the second set, but the Belgian responded with some vintage form, racing back to clinch a break of her own with a running backhand.

Serena leveled once more a game later, but the momentum was with the Belgian. Henin was into her stride, showing some great touch at the net to back up her impressive array of groundstrokes.

The seven-time Grand Slam champ, playing just her second tournament since coming out of retirement, edged ahead again in game seven and broke for a third time to love to take the championship match into a deciding set.

The Belgian even allowed herself a small fist-pump as she led 1-0 15-40 early in the third, but any celebrations proved to be premature. Two aces helped the defending champ hold before she broke herself for a 3-2 lead a couple of games later when Henin sprayed a backhand long.

The turnaround took the wind out of Henin, who by now was showing signs of tiredness. Her legs struggled to drive up as she served, and her timing fell out of sync. Serena, meanwhile, grew with each passing point, and broke once more to leave her serving for the title.

There was no response from Henin this time, as Serena served out to become the first back-to-back winner in Melbourne since 2002.

“I’d like to congratulate Justine for having a fabulous tournament and giving me such a great run today,” she said afterwards. “I think it could have gone either way and I definitely think she’s back so all you guys back there definitely have a lot to cheer for.”

Henin, still unranked until after her next tournament, was disappointed but magnanimous in defeat. “It’s been a very emotional two weeks for me. I thought they would never happen again, that I could come back on the court.

“I’ve really enjoyed my tournament and I think this is the best place for me to start here in Australia because you know tennis so well, you know the culture of the sport so thank you for your support.

“I’d like to congratulate Serena who is of course a real champion so well done again,” she added, before finishing with a welcome phrase: “I’ll see you all next year.”

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