They boast 18 majors between them, 76 tour titles in total and a staggering $US48 million in career prize money. Incredibly, though, never before have tennis titans Serena Williams and Justine Henin clashed in a grand slam final.
It finally takes place at the Australian Open on Saturday night after Williams and Henin set up the dream final that had seemed destined to happen ever since the shock demise of super-mum Kim Clijsters in the third round.
Henin can barely believe she’s now just one win from completing one of the greatest comebacks in women’s sport.
“I have to be honest, I didn’t really expect this,” the big-hearted little Belgian said after crushing China’s Zheng Jie inside an hour. It was the most one-sided women’s Open semi-final since Chris Evert destroyed Andrea Jaeger by the same scoreline in 1982.
Remarkably, Henin – an unranked Open wildcard – is poised to land her eighth grand slam crown just 12 matches, two tournaments and three weeks into her return to the game after 20 months’ long service leave.
“If I can go back home with another title, that would be more than a dream, of course,” the 2004 champion said.
Despite being favourite with bookmakers, following Williams’ slightly more arduous run to the final, Henin knows she still has a mountain to climb conquering the world No.1.
“It’s just the biggest challenge I could get,” the 27-year-old said.
“I know I’ll have to play great tennis because Serena in this kind of situation is at her best level all the time.
“I have 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 the greatest champions. A real fighter. Never gives up.
“She really helped the game to come to another level.”
As has been the case for much of the tournament, Williams played with strapping on her left knee and right thigh in her fighting 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-1) semi-final victory over China’s 16th seed Li Na.
“I am happy I was able to pull it out – it was really close,” Williams said.
“I wasn’t at my best today but I’m still here, which is shocking and I’m just going to do whatever I can to stay.”
At times, the top seed’s movement around the court seemed laboured, but she lifted when it mattered, dominating the second-set tiebreak after blowing four match points in the 10th and 12th games.
But unbeaten in four finals in Melbourne, it would be foolish to write the defending champion off.
Williams leads Henin 7-6 in their career series, trails 4-2 in grand-slam encounters but trounced the Belgian for the loss of two games in their most recent meeting in Miami in 2008 – just two months before Henin walked away from tennis, the first top-ranked player ever to do so.
While Henin is looking to outdo Clijsters with a grand-slam triumph one tournament less into her comeback than when her compatriot lifted last year’s US Open trophy, Williams is also striving to rewrite history.
The 28-year-old has the opportunity on Friday to achieve an unprecedented tennis sister act with sister Venus in the women’s doubles final against Zimbabwean Cara Black and American Liezel Huber.
Williams has already completed the Open double twice before, in 2003 and again last year in Melbourne.
Snapshot of day 11 of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Thursday:
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Justine Henin – the big-hearted little Belgian is one win away from completing one of the greatest comebacks in women’s sport after crushing China’s Zheng Jie 6-1 6-0 in less than an hour.
KEY MOMENT: With their semi-final on a knife-edge going into the second-set tiebreaker, Serena Williams steps up to another level against Li Na, winning it 7-1 and sealing the deal with her 12th ace.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I wouldn’t be honest if I said I don’t want to win this tournament now that I’m in the final.” – Henin making no secret that her work in Australia ain’t done yet.
STAT OF THE DAY: Henin’s ruthless win was the most one-sided women’s Open semi-final since Chris Evert destroyed fellow American Andrea Jaeger by the same scoreline in 1982.
TOURNAMENT SUMMARY: A dream women’s final awaits, with Williams to meet Henin for the first time in a grand slam title match.