Williams Rallies Past Henin To Win Fourth Key Biscayne Title

Saturday, March 31st 2007, 2:43 pm
By: News On 6

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida (AP) _ Serena Williams survived a dismal start and erased two championship points in the second set to beat top-ranked Justine Henin 0-6, 7-5, 6-3 and win the Sony Ericsson Open on Saturday.

The comeback was nothing new for Williams, who revived her career by winning the Australian Open in January for her eighth Grand Slam title. Once ranked No. 1, she fell to 140th last July because of long layoffs but will climb back to 11th on Monday.

Williams closed out the victory with a service winner, accepted gracious congratulations from Henin and then waved her index finger for the cheering crowd, intent on returning to the top.

The match was 39 minutes old before Williams won a game, and Henin was twice one point from the title serving at 5-4 in the second set. Williams saved both points, including one where her return clipped the net cord, keeping her in the match by perhaps an inch (two centimeters).

Henin slipped and took an awkward tumble during that game, skinning her left knee, and lost the next six points. She fell again trailing 3-0 in the final set and remained seated on the sunbaked concrete for nearly a minute, as if debating whether to concede.

The feisty Belgian rose and rallied for 3-all, before Williams began one final surge to earn her fourth Key Biscayne title.

Playing in only her seventh tournament in the past 18 months _ and her first since Melbourne _ Williams improved to 15-1 this year and 41-5 at Key Biscayne.

Two first-time Key Biscayne finalists will meet for the men's title on Sunday: 29-year-old Argentine qualifier Guillermo Canas and 19-year-old Serbian Novak Djokovic.

The Williams-Henin matchup was their first meeting in nearly four years, and the 2 1/2-hour revival of the rivalry produced plenty of drama.

Henin, a five-time Grand Slam champion playing in her first Key Biscayne final, used her vast array of shots to control the early rallies. Williams was off balance and struggled in vain to control the groundstrokes that overpowered top-seeded Maria Sharapova and others in previous matches.

Williams won only six points in her first four service games. She finally won a game by breaking for 1-all in the second set, then held for the first time in the next game.

The crowd was in Williams' corner and roaring as she began to rally. Her groundstrokes became steadier, and she started moving forward more aggressively.

Also contributing to the turnaround was some tentative play by Henin. She hit two double faults serving for the title at 5-4 in the second set, and another when she lost serve to fall behind 5-3 in the final set.

Williams trailed love-40 serving in the final game before she swept the last five points. She converted her first championship point, curling in a 77-mph (124-kph) kick serve that handcuffed Henin.

The serve skipped off the sideline and Williams hesitated, unsure whether the shot was good. She then dropped her racket and grinned sheepishly at her narrow escape and latest title, the 28th of her career.

Williams also won $533,350 (euro400,500). Henin settled for $266,675 (euro200,000).