The power and the glory for Williams

Fifth Australian Open title for Serena as Henin's comeback falls just short

For someone playing only her second tournament in nearly two years it was a remarkable effort, but Justine Henin fell just short in her attempt to win the Australian Open here yesterday. Serena Williams, the defending champion, beat the Belgian 6-4 3-6 6-2 to claim the title for a fifth time and underline her position as the world's leading player.

Henin, who returned to competition earlier this month after coming out of retirement, still has to play one more tournament before she is given any sort of world ranking, but on the evidence of the last fortnight it will be a surprise if she is not challenging by the end of the year for the No 1 position she vacated in such dramatic fashion in May 2008. Henin played some beautifully crafted points and in moving forward more often is looking a more complete player than in her first coming.

The pure power of Williams proved the difference. By the end of the match the American was cracking big forehands into the corners, while her serve was crucial throughout. The American hit 12 aces to five by Henin, who made six double faults.

It was a much better final than some of the women's mismatches of recent years, but it was often a lop-sided contest. Although both women played well in patches, there were not many passages of play when both were at their best.

When Henin last appeared in the final here four years ago her retirement with a stomach problem when Amélie Mauresmo was leading in the second set did not go down well in some quarters. There was as much sympathy for Mauresmo on the grounds that the Frenchwoman had not been given the chance to savour her moment of victory after so many years striving to win her first Grand Slam title.

Nevertheless the support for Henin on this occasion was overwhelming, with loud cheers for almost every winning point. The Belgian's comeback story has been big news here, while Williams' worldwide popularity has undoubtedly dipped following her foul-mouthed tirade at a line judge during last year's US Open.

Williams struggled to hold her serve at first, but it was the American who made the first break to lead 3-1. The crowd's affections were clear in the following game. Henin managed to break back in the seventh game but, at 4-5, several errors gave Williams the set. Early breaks were exchanged in the second set, which was tight until Henin took charge with some remarkable play. From 3-3 and deuce the Belgian played superb attacking tennis, winning 15 points in a row to take the set and an early lead in the decider. Williams, her right thigh and left knee heavily strapped, was looking clumsy and tired. But almost as quickly as Henin had taken command, Williams re-took the initiative, winning six of the last seven games as she finally found a consistent rhythm. Two aces helped her to match point and a backhand crosscourt winner completed the job.

Williams, whose 12th Grand Slam singles title puts her equal with Billie Jean King, said after the match that it was good to have Henin back. "It's exciting," she said. "She can definitely be No 1, especially with our ranking system, if she keeps doing well."

Henin said she was disappointed to lose but added: "I'm sure there will be a lot of positives I can think about in a few days. It's been almost perfect, though I couldn't take the last step."

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice