>> Friday, January 29, 2010
They're older and wiser and much more accomplished. Serena Williams, the current #1, and Justine Henin, the former #1 will be fighting for the first grand slam title of the decade at the 2010 Australian Open. If interviews were to taken as they are, the two best players in their generation are approaching the match with plenty of respect and high regard of each other. It's a far cry from the 2003 French Open semifinal where Serena lost to Henin and during a post-match interview, accused her Belgian rival of lying and fabricating stories. Henin replied that everyone was happy with her win except the Williams sisters.
I've chosen some answers that both players have given during interviews conducted in the past two days. The two legends who have won 18 grand slam finals between the two of them talk about playing against each other in their first Grand Slam final, on their rivalry, and on their mental toughness. Serena discusses Henin's comeback and Henin also gives her take on the incident at the 2003 French Open.
On playing against each other in their first Grand Slam final
Q. You played Serena so many times before. Does it feel any different coming up against her in a Grand Slam final?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, of course, it's a special occasion. But I see it as an opportunity to play the No. 1 player in the world in a Grand Slam final. It's more than a dream for me. It's a perfect challenge. And I love this kind of situation.
We had great battles in the past. We played our best tennis when we played each other. At the beginning it was quite difficult for me to face Serena. Then slowly but surely I could change it a little more. The last time we played each other wasn't a really good memories in Miami.
What I hope is we gonna be in a very good level, both of us, so we can produce a good tennis, and the best will win.
Q. Would you consider this a defining match for you?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Um, I haven't thought about that at all. I think if you ‑‑ just thinking about it now, I think it'll be a defining match for both of us.
For me, I feel like I have no pressure. You know, I'm still here and I'm still alive, and that's anything less of a miracle. So I feel good.
Q. Do you think this could be the best answer, this final, which is the real queen of women's tennis?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, that would be a nice title. But I think we both proved different kind of things in the past. What Serena did was just amazing, and still doing it. And I did my way also on the tour. I think we brought different kind of things to the game. So we both have a different place on the tour.
She is No. 1. I've been No. 1. I hope it's gonna be a great match, really. I hope it's going to be a good atmosphere on the court, that people are going to like the match, and that we can be at our best. That's what I wish for.
Q. Is there something to be said for playing your great rivals in Grand Slam finals?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Um, absolutely. I think it'll be fun. I think that just says it all.
Q. Are you surprised it's taken you so long to play Serena in a Grand Slam final?
JUSTINE HENIN: We've never played in a Grand Slam final in the past. It's my first Grand Slam since I'm back, and we're already there. So it's more than a dream. I mean, I'm so happy to play against her because if I want to win another Grand Slam, I'll have to beat the best player of the world. And that's just the biggest challenge I could get.
I have to be honest, I didn't really expect that. But now that's a reality that is coming. I will try to be at my best.
On their rivalry
Q. Do you think of her as a rival or another player you have to beat?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I definitely think of her as a rival. I think we bring out the best game in each other. I think that we both just play our hearts out. I think that's what creates a good rivalry.
Q. How do you look at your rivalry with Serena?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I think a lot of respect for who she is, what she did. She is a real champion. She proved it again in this tournament. Has been in trouble, and she had the reaction of, yeah, the greatest champions. A real fighter. Never gives up. And I think she really helped the game to come at another level. And she really helped women's tennis a lot. She's still there with an amazing attitude.
I think we respect each other a lot for that. We're both real fighters. We want to win. And I think maybe we helped each other, yeah, to get better. So it's a good one.
On mental toughness and their attributes
Q. Could you say who is the biggest fighter out of the two of you?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, she proved that she is a real champion and a real fighter. And I did also earn my way and proved also in the past that I can come back from any situation. That was the kind of match I really love.
So it's great when you have two fighters on the court that never give up. And I hope we gonna find this attitude, this mentality, so we can give something else.
Q. Justine says this is gonna a be really mental battle. You've both been there, done that. Do you agree with that?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I think that's a really good point. It definitely will be mental and who wants it more and wants the title more and who' willing to go the extra step.
I think we both want it, you know. But we'll just see who's playing better tomorrow.
Q. You're considered one of the most intense competitors out there. Do you feel Justine's intensity level when you're on the court?
SERENA WILLIAMS: She's a little more calm, but she's also kind of quiet intense. So I think you kind of have to be at the match to see it, how intense she really is. I think it's good. She says 'allez' a lot, so I think it's kind of fun.
Q. Yesterday Serena described you as a calmer presence on the court than she is, but she said you're more intense. How do you describe her standing on the opposite side of the net?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, uhm, she is a really aggressive player. But I say it in the positive way. You know, she wants to win every point. She's really focused. She's really intense. We probably have a little bit the same qualities in that part of our game.
So, you know, you have to put the pressure all the time because even if she's down ‑ and she proved it against Azarenka a few days ago, she was really in trouble at that time ‑ but you know it's never over. So every point counts, both of us. That's going to make the difference also, you know, in our match, to be able to be focused, really aggressive, intense, and keep the pressure and be consistent.
So, yeah, she pushed me in the past to be at my best, of course, and I'm sure it's gonna be the case again tomorrow.
Serena on Justine's game and comeback
Q. Justine seems to be returning well.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, she's playing really well. She's doing great. It will be good. I hope to serve well. But regardless, I'll have to do other things well, too.
Q. How have you considered her (Justine Henin's) comeback?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, it's just been amazing. I mean, her and Kim, such a great story. Justine hasn't been gone that long, but it's still a good story.
Q. What does she do particularly well?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Uhm, well, I think, again, it's a case of: What doesn't she do well?
Henin on the past
Q. The 2003 French Open was a really big deal at the time. She said things which were quite strong words. At what stage did you get the feeling she was no longer holding anything against you for that incident?
JUSTINE HENIN: You know, it's far away now. It's a long time. We exchange a few words here. There is a lot of respect between the two of us, a lot. And I think, yeah, it seems long, long time ago. So I'm sure there's no problem about that between the two of us.
We both want to win. We both respect the fact that the other gave a lot to the game, and that's very good.
Q. The last time you played Serena was Miami 2008.
JUSTINE HENIN: Don't talk to me about that one (smiling). [Note: Serena beat Henin 6-2, 6-0 in the last match they played.]