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By JOE DRAPE
Published: January 30, 2010

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams won her fifth Australian Open championship here Saturday in a three-set thriller that showcased her big serve, her ballistic forehand and most of all an unquenchable will to win that she needed every bit of to turn back Justine Henin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.It was a 12th Grand Slam title for Williams, who matches Billie Jean King’s total and is halfway to the record 24 major titles held by Margaret Court, who was here at Melbourne Park to hand over the championship trophy to Williams.

“I’d like to congratulate Justine for having a fabulous tournament. She gave me all I could handle tonight,” said Williams, who won her previous four titles here in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

It was, indeed, a match of twists and turns that forced Williams to dig deep for both her talents and her fortitude to defeat Henin, who was playing in only her second tournament after leaving the game for 20 months. Henin’s return was the emotional touch point for the fortnight here as she seemed to rediscover the magic that had propelled her to seven time Grand Slam titles.

The last time a women’s Grand Slam went three sets was at Wimbledon in 2006, when Henin lost to Amelie Mauresmo. Over a two-hour-and-seven-minute match, Henin’s shot making and grit often matched that of Williams, especially in a furious second set and the opening of the third – a span in which she won five straight games and 15 consecutive points.

Williams, in fact, looked haggard during the run, but leaned on her rocket first serve – she dished out 12 aces – and then broke Henin’s serve three straight games.

“It’s been very emotional two weeks for me,” she said, accepting the second-place trophy. “I’d like to congratulate Serena – she’s a real champion.”

Photo: FotoSport International/Camerawork USA