Serena, Henin play for Australian title
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Defending champion Serena Williams has advanced to her fifth Australian Open final in Melbourne and will put her 100 percent record here on the line against Justine Henin, who is only two tournaments into her comeback from retirement.
Both advanced over Chinese players today to set up a championship match involving two former Australian champions.
Top-ranked Williams wasted four match points before finishing off a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1) semifinal win with an ace against Li Na, a day after her sister Venus lost to the Chinese player in the quarterfinals.
Henin overwhelmed 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, 6-1, 6-0, in 51 minutes, the shortest match of this tournament and the most lopsided semifinal at the Australian Open since Chris Evert beat Andrea Jaeger by the same score in 1982.
Williams leads Henin 7-6 in career head-to-heads, although they've never met in a Grand Slam final. Williams won their last match, at Miami in 2008, just before Henin retired suddenly while holding the No. 1 ranking.
"I can't wait for the final. It's such an amazing chance that I have to play another final in Melbourne," said Henin, who won the 2004 title in Melbourne and retired with stomach problems during the 2006 final against Amelie Mauresmo. "It's a very special occasion, but the dream continues.
"I'm going to play the No. 1 player in the world in a Grand Slam final. She's a real fighter."
Serena Williams has won the title every time she's played for the championship since beating Venus here in 2003. The winning sequence has been every odd-numbered year so far.
"I really should have won sooner ... I had so many match points and I blew it and I knew I couldn't mess up my serve because she (Na) never gives up," Williams said after posting her 50th career win at Melbourne Park. "She's a real, real amazing fighter.
"Every time I had match points she came up with some big serves and great shots. She just goes for broke."
China had two players into the semifinals of the same major for the first time but still is yet to get a finalist.
Henin has won seven Grand Slam singles titles but is into her first major since the 2008 Australian Open, when she lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Maria Sharapova.
Henin is unranked and two tournaments into a comeback from 20 months off the tour, hoping to emulate fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters' win at the U.S. Open.
Clijsters was only three tournaments into a comeback from two years off, and playing on a wild card entry, when she beat both Williams sisters en route to winning the title at New York.
WILLIAMS SISTERS OUT OF FED CUP QUARTERS
Melanie Oudin, Shenay Perry, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and top-ranked doubles player Liezel Huber are on the U.S. team that will play France in the Fed Cup quarterfinals next month.
U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez announced the roster yesterday. The best-of-five series will be played on red clay in Lievin, France on Feb. 6-7.
Neither Serena or Venus Williams is participating. Serena is ranked No. 1, and Venus is No. 6. Serena said this week she and her sister will be in Florida that weekend — the Super Bowl is Feb. 7 in Miami — because they have an ownership stake in the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
STREET, ROCKIES FINALIZE $22.5M DEAL
Closer Huston Street and the Colorado Rockies finalized a $22.5 million, three-year contract yesterday, a deal that could be worth $31 million over four season.
Street, who had 35 saves in 37 chances last season, gets $7.2 million this year, $7.3 million in 2011 and $7.5 million in 2012. The agreement, which avoided arbitration, includes a $9 million mutual option for 2013 with a $500,000 buyout if the club declines to exercise.
"For me, it was going to be hard for me not to sign," Street said. "I won't have to worry about my security and my family's security, at least for the next three years."
WINN, YANKS AGREE TO $2M, ONE-YEAR
The New York Yankees and free agent outfielder Randy Winn agreed yesterday to a $2 million, one-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.
The agreement, which all but eliminates any chance Johnny Damon has of returning to the World Series champions, is subject to a physical that is scheduled for today. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because a final agreement was not in place.
Winn hit .262 with two homers and 51 RBIs for San Francisco last year.
NO. 6 TEXAS WINS
Texas got some unexpected scoring from guards Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay, and the No. 6 Longhorns beat visiting Texas Tech, 95-83, last night in Austin to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Mason scored 18 points and Balbay had 13, helping the Longhorns bounce back from losses at Kansas State and Connecticut last week that cost them the nation's top ranking.
Mason and Balbay went into the game averaging just more than seven points between them. But with defenses concentrating on stopping Damion James and Dexter Pittman down low, the Texas guards finally took advantage of the space given to them to knock down shots.
James had 28 points and 13 rebounds for the Longhorns (18-2, 4-1 Big 12) to set the Big 12 record for career double-doubles with 48.
John Roberson scored 27 for Texas Tech (14-6, 2-4).
AMERICAN DAVIS TO RACE IN 4 OF 5 EVENTS
U.S. speedskating star Shani Davis won't be competing in all five individual races at the Vancouver Olympics.
The first black athlete to win a Winter Olympics individual gold, at the 2006 Turin Games, had planned to become the first American since Eric Heiden to skate in every individual event. But Guy Thibault, the high-performance director at U.S. Speedskating, told the AP yesterday that Davis backed out of the 10,000 before a Jan. 17 deadline.