GOLD COAST - Venus Williams won her first tournament on Australian soil today, taking the Thalgo Australian Women's Hardcourts with a 75 62 victory over defending champion Justine Henin.
Williams has now won 20 matches in a row and four consecutive titles – San Diego, New Haven, the US Open and today's 70-minute Gold Coast triumph.
The victory was even more remarkable given Williams' four-month respite from tennis to heal a wrist injury and continue her studies in fashion design. After a week's break, which she will take supporting her sister, Serena, at the adidas International in Sydney, the world No.3 will throw herself into Australian Open 2002, a grand slam title she is desperate to add to her collection of two US Open and two Wimbledon singles crowns.
Judging by her form at the Royal Pines Resort, Williams will be nicely primed to better her record in Melbourne, where she has never gone past the semifinals.
While she made a shaky start, dropping her opening serve, Williams was simply too powerful for the diminutive Belgian, who had embarked on a weight-training program to compensate for her physical limitations after losing to Williams in the Wimbledon final and again at New Haven.
The first set was an even contest, but crunch time came in the tenth game when Henin was pushed to save four set points. Williams easily held for 6-5 and Henin once again fell in a hole with a foot-fault and a netted forehand. This time Williams made good use of her set point, thumping balls back until Henin hit a backhand long.
Henin had three break points in the third game of the second set, but couldn't convert then lost her own serve twice running to fall behind a fatal 5-1. The 1200 capacity crowd lifted in the sticky heat when Henin broke Williams for 5-2, but she was unable to hold and the match ended with a double fault.
Henin, who has been suffering with flu-like symptoms, said it had been a taxing match.
"I had to work very hard in the first set and it was mentally and physically very hard for me," she said. "Because I had to fight a lot to come back at 5-5 I had a little down.
"I'm happy because I feel stronger on court, I feel I can play rallies with Venus. To stay with this level during a match with her is a little bit difficult. They key was the serve. She served very well on the big points. It was difficult for me to keep my serve, especially mentally, because she returned very well. "
And while she feels positive and determined, the world No.7 knows she needs to keep working like a Jack Russell if she is ever going to trouble the power-hitters.
"I will have to work more and more and more if I want to beat this kind of player. Venus is a great champion, I'm still young and I'm learning. It's a good experience for me and I know what I have to work on. I feel that the difference is very little now. She's taller than me, she's stronger than me, but I'm not afraid about this because I feel it's a lot better now that it was last year."
Henin will now head to Sydney and is happy with the preparation the Gold Coast event has offered in the lead-up to the Australian Open. "It gives me a lot of confidence to be in the again in the final and it's a good preparation so I think I will not change it next year."
World No.3 Venus William continued her dominance over Justine Henin with a straight sets victory at the Australian women's hardcourt championship final.
Williams cruised to her 20th straight win on the WTA circuit, beating the world No.7 Belgian 7-5 6-2 in less than an hour at the Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast.
Defending champion Henin, who stretched Williams to three sets before conceding the Wimbledon final last year, looked a major threat in the opening set after breaking the Wimbledon and US Open champion in the first game of the match.
The tenacious Henin then saved four set points at 5-4 against the serving might of the big-hitting American, but Williams eventually took the set in 40 minutes.
Williams broke Henin in the fourth and sixth games of the second set but the terrier determination of the second seed, who has risen from world No.50 since last year's Gold Coast title win, broke back in the seventh game.
However, the nerves which have plagued 19-year-old Henin throughout the tournament reared in the final game as she served a double fault to hand Williams the match.
Australian Rugby Union debutante Wendell Sailor was front row as Williams celebrated the victory in her first tournament since her US Open title win last September.
Her 20-match winning streak started in the US last year, with wins in San Diego, New Haven and her memorable title defence at Flushing Meadows over sister Serena.
Williams has now set her sights on one of the only two grand slams still eluding her - the Australian Open.
"I'd like to take this title for myself because I had a tough opponent," Williams told the crowd as she accepted the $54,000 winner's cheque.