BRING ON A HENIN vs. SERENA FINAL

A blockbuster Justine Henin vs. Serena Williams women’s singles final at the 2010 Australian Open looks like a strong possibility.

A renewal of one of the best rivalries in women’s tennis over the last 10 years looks to be in the cards as the bottom half of the women’s draw opened up with losses by No. 2 seed Dinara Safina and No. 3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Henin defeating fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, to advance into the quarterfinals.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

To reach the Australian Open final in only her second tournament back from a 20-month retirement, Henin will have to beat Petrova and then the winner of the Maria Kirilenko vs. Jie Zheng quarterfinal.

Henin won six and lost seven matches against Serena during their rivalry and the two future Hall of Famers have combined for 18 major singles titles. The two players seems destined for a second-round collision course at the pre-Aussie Open event in Sydney, but Henin withdrew from the event after losing an exhausting final the week before against Kim Clijsters in Brisbane.

“I’m sure she’ll be ready and amped to go,” Williams said two weeks ago about the possibility of playing Justine in Sydney. “She has a good record against me so I’m sure it will be a good match.”

Williams lost only two games in their last encounter at Miami in 2008, shortly before Henin announced her shock retirement from tennis while holding the No. 1 ranking. Their most famous – and contentious – match came on June 5, 2003, as documented and excerpted below in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

2003 – Serena Williams is defeated by Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a raucously pro-Henin Hardenne crowd in the semifinals of the French Open, ending Williams’ 33-match major tournament winning streak. The match is highlighted by an incident in the third-set that proves to be contentious and acrimonious between the two rivals for years to come. With Williams serving at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set, Henin-Hardenne raises her hand indicating she is not ready to return serve. Williams serves in the net, then protests, to no avail, to the chair umpire and tournament referee that she should be given a first serve, while Henin-Hardenne says nothing of her gesture. Williams then loses the next four points to lose her service-break advantage and eventually the match. Says Henin-Hardenne, “I wasn’t ready to play the point. The chair umpire is there to deal with these kind of situations. I just tried to stay focused on myself and tried to forget all the other things…It’s her point of view but that’s mine now and I feel comfortable with it….I didn’t have any discussion with the chair umpire. He didn’t ask me anything. I was just trying to focus on playing the returns. She saw me and she served. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused on the second serve. One point in the match doesn’t change the outcome.”

Safina retired with a back injury in her round of 16 match with Maria Kirilenko, trailing 4-5. Petrova, who upset reigning U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-1 in the third round, continued her run by upsetting reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.  Serena Williams faces Aussie Sam Stosur in the round of 16 on Monday night.

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