Henin offers 'defining' challenge to champion

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The Independent Online

Serena Williams and Justine Henin, who meet here today in the final of the Australian Open, could hardly be more different, either in appearance or character.

Williams, her physical strength evident in her solid frame, is an outgoing personality always ready to speak her mind, as a line judge discovered at last year's US Open. Henin, whose slight figure belies her ball-striking power, is a private and thoughtful individual who measures every word.

What unites the two women is their outstanding ability and competitive spirit. Williams has won 35 titles, including 11 at Grand Slam level, and Henin 41, including seven in Grand Slam tournaments. Williams is the current world No 1, which was the position Henin occupied when she retired two years ago. Williams has won seven of their 13 meetings, but Henin has got the better of their Grand Slam encounters. This will be the first time they have met in a Grand Slam final.

Their rivalry is intense and has not always been friendly. At the 2003 French Open Williams accused Henin of lying after the Belgian refused to allow her to replay a controversial point.

However, as Henin looked forward to playing a Grand slam final in only her second tournament since coming out of retirement she played down talk of any animosity between the pair. "It's far away now, it's a long time," the Belgian said. "We exchanged a few words here, so I'm sure there's no problem about that between the two of us. We both want to win. We both respect the fact that the other gave a lot to the game."

Williams, who said their meeting would be "a defining match for both of us", is aiming to win the title for a fifth time, though this would be the first successful defence, following her victory over Dinara Safina 12 months ago. Henin won the title in 2004 and lost in the 2006 final, when she retired with a stomach problem when trailing to Amélie Mauresmo.

Laura Robson was playing Karolina Pliskova, of the Czech Republic, in the final of the girls' competition here today. In yesterday's semi-finals the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion beat Pliskova's twin, Kristyna, 6-3, 6-1.

Robson admitted she was nervous when she lost to Russia's Ksenia Pervak in last year's final. "Hopefully this year I will be more comfortable going into the match," Robson said. "I will be playing the identical twin sister of the girl I beat today so that should hopefully help me."

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