What an absolutely dream weekend for the Australian Open. Tennis really could not have had a better start to the year. We started out the year with Rafael Nadal v. Nikolay Davydenko in Doha, Andy Roddick v. Radek Stepanek in Brisbane along with Justine Henin v. Kim Clijsters. And now for the main course this weekend we are rewarded with Serena Williams v. Justine Henin today and then tomorrow Roger Federer v. Andy Murray.
Can it get much better?
First up is the women’s final.
This is the match we all wanted to see when we first heard that Henin was coming back to tennis. And sure enough the Tennis God’s allowed to it happen. The unseeded Henin could have landed anywhere in the Australian Open draw, and fortunately she found a home on the opposite half to Serena. Henin still had an extremely tough path with wins over Elena Dementieva, Yanina Wickmayer and Nadia Petrova before skating through Zheng Jie the other day in the semifinals.
Serena was granted a much easier draw and the 11-time Slam champ was virtually untested until a quarterfinal encounter against Victoria Azarenka. The Belarussian who beat Serena last March in Miami again had Serena DOA up a set and 4-0. But we all know how that turned out. Sorry Azarenka fans.
Serena then struggled against Li Na but survived and reached the final where she’ll meet Justine in the long-awaited resumption of their rivalry. And what a frosty rivalry it is.
Justine holds the slight edge winning seven of the 13 meetings including the last three in Grand Slam play. But on hardcourts it’s 4-1 in favor of Serena. In their most recent clash it was Serena pounding on the diminutive Belgian 6-2, 6-0 at 2008 Miami. But in their most memorable meeting it was Henin and her infamous “hand” incident from the French Open in 2003 getting the victory. In this battle of the best two women from the last decade, it’s safe to say that they do not like each other at all, which for us fans is a wonderful thing.
Also rewind to just a few weeks ago when Justine pulled out of the Sydney event after the draw revealed her second round opponent to be Serena. Justine claimed she was having leg problems following her Brisbane loss to Kim, but I’m guessing it had more to do with the prospect of playing Serena in just the seventh match of her comeback.
Now Justine has had some more court time to work out the kinks and clear the cobwebs. And she just played the best two sets in her crushing win over Zheng Jie. But the problem is Serena is no Zheng Jie. There are virtually no similarities outside of them both being right-handed and playing on the WTA circuit.
Serena has the serve, the power, the confidence, the experience and the history of playing well in Melbourne – she just won the doubles title (again). She’s No. 1 for a reason: She knows how to win Slams.
Henin has seven of her own, but I think it’s just too early for her to start adding that kind of hardware to her trophy case. Plus, Serena is not going to want to lose to formerly-retired Belgians in back-to-back Slams, especially not one she must detest. So I think Serena saves her best tennis for last and overpowers and serves Justine right off the court. The pick is Serena in straight sets.
And no, before you ask, unfortunately I don’t think Serena will have another egregious US Open-type meltdown nor will she try to bite Justine’s head off when they shake hands at the net. But it never hurts to dream. It is the dream weekend after all, isn’t it?
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