Saturday September 8th, 2007

NEW YORK -- Justine Henin and Venus Williams were tied at 5-5 in the first set of their semifinal clash and as hard as Svetlana Kuznetsova tried not to look at the television during her post-match press conference, her eyes kept drifting toward the screen. Why? Because you always want to see what your executioner looks like.

The winner of the women's tournament was decided at 6:11 p.m. Friday when Williams sailed a backhand wide at Arthur Ashe Stadium. This is not a bold statement: Justine Henin is going to win this tournament on Saturday night. She has been the best player on Tour this year (49-4 in 2007) and has not lost a set at the Open despite having one of the toughest draws in history.

Henin played exceptional tennis Friday, moving with precision and dictating play against one of the Tour's most aggressive players. With her 7-6, 6-4 win over Venus Williams, she becomes the first player in three years to beat both Williams sisters in a Tour event. She also joins a select group of women (Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport) to pull off the Williams double at a tournament. The list is even shorter at a Grand Slam. Only Henin and Hingis (who defeated Serena in the quarterfinals and Venus of the semifinals of the 2001 Australian Open) have pulled it off at a major.

"I don't think a lot of people thought I could beat her here in this tournament," Henin said on Friday night. "I was really proud. It's not easy to play Serena and Venus, you know. I think I just did a great job. My tournament is not over yet."

But it's close. Now that Henin has overcome her toughest foe -- she improved to 2-7 lifetime against Venus, who said afterward that she was dizzy and sick to her stomach -- look for her to push Kuznetsova all over the court in the final. The Russian and 2004 U.S. Open winner admitted she was nervous against Anna Chakvetadze but has nothing to lose in this match. (She will move up to No. 2 in the world no matter the result.) Her lone chance is to serve big and go for broke against Henin. You can give her a puncher's chance because she has played Henin tight despite beating her in just two of 14 matches, but no top player on tour is streakier than Kuznetsova. Both Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova played unwatchable tennis at times and if the Russian comes out spraying balls all over Ashe again, Henin's work could be done in about the same time as an episode of Heroes.

Kusnetsova beat Henin in their previous match at the German Open in May a month before the Belgian won the French Open. But it's best to toss out the result. The match, a rain-interrupted semifinal, was on clay and the week was filled with numerous interruptions for rain, poor light, and slippery courts. Asked about her 14-2 career record over Kusnetsova, Henin said it's not a factor.

"Venus beat me seven times [in a row] and I won today so doesn't mean a lot of things," she said. "Last time I lost to Svetlana was on clay in Berlin. But it was a different situation. Going to be like a little revenge for me tomorrow."

A little revenge, and a decisive win for the Player of the Year. Don't leave your television for too long tomorrow or you may miss it.'s pick: Henin in two.

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