by Dennis Passa
Associated Press Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)—Serena Williams won her second straight Australian Open championship, ending Justine Henin’s hopes of a Grand Slam title in her return from retirement with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory Jan. 30.
Williams withstood a determined challenge from Henin before securing her fifth Australian Open title overall and 12th Grand Slam singles championship overall, tying Billie Jean King.
|EXCLAMATION POINT—Serena Williams reacts to a point won against Justine Henin of Belgium, during the Women’s Singles finals at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
King was at the stadium Saturday night to take part in a pre-match ceremony to honor the 40-year anniversary of Margaret Court’s four Grand Slam tournament wins in 1970.
“Billie, we are tied,” Williams said. “So I’ve reached my goal.”
Williams’ five Australian titles is the most by any woman in the Open Era, since 1968, surpassing the four held by Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. Court holds 11 Australian Open titles overall, most coming before 1968.
Henin, who had most of the crowd support at Rod Laver Arena, couldn’t match her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters’ feat of winning in her Grand Slam comeback tournament. Clijsters won last year’s U.S. Open in her return from a two-year retirement after getting married and having a daughter.
Williams won the last four games to clinch the championship in just over two hours, falling on her back in celebration after match point.
“It was definitely a tough match mentally and physically,” Williams said. “We were both out there to prove something, and I think we did at the end of the day.”
It was an impressive run by Henin. She lost in the final of the Brisbane International tournament to Clijsters two weeks ago.
“It’s been a very emotional two weeks for me,” said Henin, who put her hand on her heart as she thanked the crowd for support. “I thought it would never happen to me again. I’d like to congratulate Serena. She’s a real champion.”
“It’s good to have her back, it’s exciting,” Williams said of Henin. “She can definitely be No. 1, especially with our ranking system, if she keeps doing well.”
The American holds an 8-6 edge in career meetings between the pair, including a 6-2, 6-0 win in Miami in 2008. At the time, it equaled the worst loss for a reigning No. 1, and Henin quit tennis two months later.
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are Williams’ next goal, with 18 majors each.
“Honestly, I’m just doing what I can. I obviously enjoy playing in Melbourne, clearly,” Williams said. “I never thought I could catch up with Martina, because she’s such an amazing champion.”
Last Friday Serena and sister Venus won their fourth Australian Open doubles title beating Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-4, 6-3 in the final at Rod Laver Arena. It was the 11th time the Williams sisters have combined for a Grand Slam doubles title.