• Australian Open, Day 13

Williams denies Henin fairytale comeback

ESPN staff
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Serena Williams ended Justine Henin's dream comeback, winning in three sets to defend her Australian Open crown. In a thrilling final, the top seed triumphed 6-4 3-6 6-2 to win her fifth Melbourne crown and 12th Grand Slam and move level with Billie-Jean King in the all time list.

Former world No. 1 Henin was on course to emulate fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters and win her first Grand Slam after returning from retirement, and produced an impressive display to force her opponent to battle for victory in three tremendous sets.

A thrilling opening set that saw Williams take an early lead, breaking Henin's serve to go 4-2 up before the Belgian broke back to level the scores at 4-4. However, when Williams held her serve, without having to save break point for the first time in the match, her opponent was unable to respond and handed the opening set to the top seed.

With so many seeds falling by the wayside early on in Melbourne, the organisers of the Australian Open could not have hoped for a better final. The top seed and defending champion against former world No. 1 Henin in her first Grand Slam in two years.

And the first set lived up to expectation, but with Henin never having beaten Williams after going a set down, the Belgian had her work cut out to get back into the match, and she did not disappoint.

Justine Henin was agonisingly close to an eighth Grand Slam title © Getty Images
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The drama continued in the second set with Henin taking first blood, breaking Williams' second service game. But with a 12th Grand Slam in her sights, the world No.1 broke straight back, held her nerve to go 3-2 up, and forced Henin to save two break points, making huge ground on the court to return first a smash and then a drop shot.

As momentum swung back in Henin's favour, she broke again to take a 4-3 lead before playing unbeatable tennis to hold her serve, then breaking once more to secure the set 6-3 and take the final to a deciding set.

Henin began the third set in the same vein she finished the second, emphatically winning her opening service game to make it 15 consecutive points. But the momentum swung once more and with the eighth break of service, Williams took a 2-1 lead. Williams could not shake off her rival and hit three unforced errors on her serve to hand three break points to Henin. The top seed saved two but, after a wild first serve, Henin took the point to break straight back.

Just as it looked too hard to call, Williams showed why she is ranked No. 1 in the world when she broke Henin twice to storm to a 5-2 lead and served out the match to become the first woman to defend her Australian Open title since Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

In just her 12th match following 18 months out of the game, Henin showed glimpses of the form that saw her win seven Grand Slam titles. Although she was disappointed not to make it eight, the wildcard was happy with her form nonetheless.

"It has been an emotional two weeks for me," she said. "I thought it would never happen again but I have come back on court and really enjoyed the tournament. There were many legends of the game watching this match and it has been an honour to play in front of them."

Williams was quick to praise her beaten opponent: "Congratulations to Justine for a fabulous tournament," she said. "It was a great final and could have gone either way."

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