Justine Henin has usually managed to stay one step ahead of Kim Clijsters and the seven-times Grand Slam champion remains on course to upstage her Belgian rival here tomorrow. Clijsters completed the mother of all comebacks by winning last year's US Open, having taken a two-year break from the game to start a family, but Henin will outdo even that achievement if she beats Serena Williams in tomorrow's Australian Open final.
Clijsters won her second Grand Slam in her third tournament after her return, while Henin is making only her second appearance since coming out of retirement earlier this month. Henin, who lost to Clijsters in the final of her first event in Brisbane three weeks ago, could be in the bizarre position of being a Grand Slam champion without a world ranking. In order to be given a ranking players have to compete in a minimum of three tournaments.
Yesterday's semi-finals offered the prospect of an all-Chinese final, but Henin and Williams never looked in danger. Henin beat Zheng Jie 6-1, 6-0 in just 51 minutes – the shortest match of the tournament so far and the most one-sided semi-final here since Chris Evert beat Andrea Jaeger by the same score 28 years ago – while Williams beat Li Na 7-6, 7-6.
Henin had said in earlier rounds that she was feeling tired, but she believes she will be in good shape for the final. "I'm fresh mentally and emotionally, even if it took me a lot of energy in the last few weeks to come back and play my first matches and face all of this again," she said.
"It's my first Grand Slam since I came back and we're already there, so it's more than a dream. I'm so happy to play against her [Williams] because if I want to win another Grand Slam I'll have to beat the best player in the world. That's just the biggest challenge I could have."
Williams is the current world No 1, while Henin was No 1 when she retired in May 2008. They have been the two outstanding players of recent years and there is great rivalry between them. The American leads 7-6 in their head-to-head record and won their last meeting, at Miami in 2008. Henin has won four of their six matches at Grand Slam level – including three successive quarter-final wins in 2007 – but they have never met in a final.
Henin won the title here in 2004 and had to retire with a stomach problem when facing Amélie Mauresmo in the 2006 final. Williams, who crushed Dinara Safina in the final 12 months ago, will be going for her fifth Melbourne title, though she has never made a successful defence of her crown.
Laura Robson reached the semi-finals of the girls' singles with a crushing 6-1, 6-0 victory over the American Ester Goldfeld. The 2008 junior Wimbledon champion, who celebrated her 16th birthday last week, won in just 43 minutes. In today's semi-finals she was due to meet the Czech Republic's Krisyna Pliskova, who beat Timea Babos, the top seed.