- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

MELBOURNE, Australia Venus Williams did her part to set up a fourth consecutive Grand Slam tournament final with her sister Serena.

Williams reached an Australian Open final for the first time by beating Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals Thursday (last night EST).

She skipped across the court, clapping her hand against her raised racket, and then waited for Serena to play Kim Clijsters, who beat both Williams sisters to win the WTA Tour Championships last November. The Williams-Clijsters match did not end in time for this edition.

Serena beat Venus for the title at the French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon last year, but missed the Australian with an ankle injury. She now is trying to complete a "Serena slam" all four major titles, but not in the same calendar year.

"It's so exciting. You know, I've struggled and failed, done everything but get this close to winning the Australian Open," said Venus, who never had gone past the semifinals here before and lost in the quarterfinals last year.

"Four in a row is real nice," she added. "I guess, at this point, I have the best opportunity to take the title home. At least, I'm in a position to be a winner. Hopefully, this time I'll be the victor."

Henin-Hardenne, who recovered from cramps late in the match to beat Lindsay Davenport on Sunday, tested Williams at times with deep, heavy shots.

Williams sometimes was overpowering on her serve, starting the second game of the second set with three of her eventual seven aces.

But she also struggled at times with her serve, losing the third game of the match with two double faults.

Serving for the match at 5-2 in the second, she reached her first match point but double faulted three times and lost the game.

She wrapped up the 74-minute match when Henin hit a forehand long to set up match point and then hit just wide with a forehand aimed at Williams' open backhand corner.

"She's a great player. It seems like I'm playing her all the time in the big matches," said Williams, who improved to 7-1 against the 20-year-old Belgian.

"I couldn't come out here and play immature. I had to play my best.".

Henin-Hardenne, the 2001 Wimbledon runner-up to Venus Williams, said that after her 3½-hour victory over Davenport, she still wasn't fresh.

But, she added, "Venus played much more aggressively than me. She returned well, she served beautifully and came more often to the net."

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