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Henin sets up a dream decider

Serena Williams and Justine Henin blasted into the Australian Open final, setting up a fairytale final between the current and former world No1s to kill off China's hopes of a first grand slam finalist.

This tournament may one day be remembered as a watershed moment for Asian tennis, with two Chinese making the semi-finals for the first time, but a potential new world order was left on hold a little longer.

Williams used all her power and big-match experience to beat Li Na 7-6 7-6 in an absorbing contest to remain on course to defend the title she won for the fourth time last year.

The American was made to work much harder than she expected, but the top seed was able to raise her game when she needed to.

"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."

Henin, in only her second tournament since coming out of retirement, demolished Zheng Jie 6-1 6-0 to continue her fairytale comeback to the sport she once dominated.

The Belgian, getting better with every match she plays, was at her ruthless best against Zheng, wrapping up a one-sided victory in 51 minutes.

Few people gave Henin any real hope of winning the tournament when she arrived in Melbourne two weeks ago, but the 27-year-old is starting to believe in herself.

"The dream continues," Henin said. "I'm going to play the No1 in the world. She's a fighter as she's proved here, and I'll do my best, and try and get the title."

Already the first Chinese to make the semi-finals of a grand slam, Li and Zheng had been bidding to become the first players from the world's most populous country to reach a final.

Their unlikely run to the semi-finals had captured the imagination of millions of people in their homeland and given the tennis world a peek at the future of the game.

"This was good for both players and, of course, good for Chinese tennis," Li said. "I think if (Chinese) children saw this, they will have more confidence. They might think some day they can do this."

By reaching the semis, Li will become the first Chinese to make the top 10 when the new rankings are released on Monday, and she showed why she is one of the most improved players in the game by pushing Williams to the limit.

The 28-year-old American, who is also playing doubles with her sister Venus, was panting heavily as Li forced her to run from side to side and was relieved to avoid going into a third set.

"I knew to play the tie-breaks well. I knew I had to get in the lead so, if I choked, I had some points to choke on," Williams said. "She's a fighter and I knew I had to close it out."

Henin won the Australian Open in 2004 and made the final in 2006, but quit the finale while trailing Amelie Mauresmo in the second set.

She needed a wildcard just to get into this year's tournament as she has not yet qualified for a ranking.

Henin also became only the second wildcard to make a grand slam final.

The other was fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who came out of retirement last year and won the US Open, inspiring Henin to make her comeback.

"I can't wait for the final. It's an amazing feeling," Henin said.