Five things we've learned from the Australian Open women's final:
1. Where's that been? After a string of generally uninspiring matches in the women's finals of majors, Serena Williams and Justine Henin served up a borderline classic tonight. Serena prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in a thoroughly engrossing three-setter, marked by wild swings in momentum, some lethal hitting and some real wills. In her first major of Career 2.0, Henin had real chances to take the big prize. But Serena's superior serve and, tonight anyway, superior poise, was the difference. We should be so lucky to get a few encores the rest of the year.
2. All hail Serena. The crowd was against her. She had played a lot of tennis this tournament (not least because she also won the doubles title.) Her opponent had nothing to lose playing in her first big event back from retirement. Heading into the third set she has zero momentum. And, still, she finds a way to win and defend her title, dialing in her serve and winning six of the last seven games to win her 12th major title and take still another step toward the Evert-Graf-Navratilova suite.
3. How about some credit for Williams' strategy? We hear plenty about her power and athleticism. But she deployed the superior tactics tonight. Henin was unnecessarily aggressive, took a lot of unneeded risks, served predictably up the middle, and failed to frustrate Serena with defense. It was Serena who picked her spots, took more measured risks and mixed her location on her serve. In short, she played like a champion.
4. Welcome back Henin. She's already playing at a high level and she's only going to get better. A friend made the analogy: whereas Kim Clijsters plays smash-mouth, up-the-gut tennis, Henin plays West Coast offense tennis. Lots of nuances and gears. As such, it should take her longer to return to full form. She looked an awful lot like the "old Justine" in Melbourne. But there were still some timing and synchronicity issues, some kinks in need of ironing, starting with the second serve. When the gears really start working in a next few months -- i.e. by the French Open time --look out.
5. The prospects for women's tennis have improved considerably. A year ago, Serena ran roughshod over a deer-in-headlights Dinara Safina in the final here, amplifying the chorus that the women's game was at a low ebb. Today? Both Belgians are back, playing at Slam-worth levels. Serena is Serena. The best rivalry of the last decade has been restored. The Chinese market has been officially cracked. The chaff has been separated from the wheat. Time to reel in that title sponsor!
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