Wimbledon repeat on Gold Coast

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Top seeds Venus Williams of the United States and Justine Henin of Belgium advanced to the final of the Australian Women's Hardcourt Championships yesterday.

Tuning up for the Australian Open, Williams held a 7–6 (7–1) 6–5 lead over Nadia Petrova when the 19–year–old Russian retired due to a strained right pectoral muscle.

"It was definitely a tough match," said Williams, who is playing her first tournament since capturing her first US Open title.

"She was hitting some nice balls and made me raise the level of my game. The last time we played at Wimbledon, she was serving a lot harder, so I knew the injury must have been bothering her because she wasn't serving as hard."

Playing in just her second career WTA semi–final, Petrova said: "I was feeling a lot better early in the second set compared to the start of the match, but right at the end I was starting to hurt a lot again."

"With the Australian Open coming up soon, I didn't want to take any more risks than I had to."

Henin, the defending champion, swept past seventh seed Daja Bedanova of the Czech Republic 6–2 6–2, to remain unbeaten in eight matches at this tournament.

"I'm very happy with the way I played," said Henin, who has dropped just two sets in two trips to Gold Coast.

"I was very aggressive from the baseline and maintained my intensity throughout the match."

Saturday's final will be a rematch of the 2001 Wimbledon final, where Williams held her nerve to defeat Henin in three sets.

The 21–year–old American also won on hardcourts in New Haven after losing to Henin on clay at the German Open earlier last year.

Henin immediately installed Williams as the favourite.

She said: "The pressure will be on her, but I've always played well here. I love the Gold Coast, so I'll be looking to have another good start to the season, like I did last year."

Williams played down the notion the pressure will be on her.

"I'm the type of person who enjoys competing and going for the title," said Williams, who is on a 19–match winning streak.