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Serena to play Henin in Australian Open final

  • Serena Williams beats China's Li Na 7-6 7-6 to reach Australian Open final
  • Williams will face Justine Henin in dream showdown on Saturday in Melbourne
  • Henin saw off Zheng Jie 6-1 6-0 in second semifinal to end Chinese challenge
  • Williams will be chasing 12th grand slam title with Henin bidding to win her eighth

(CNN) -- Serena Williams and Justine Henin took contrasting routes to a dream Australian Open final as they ended the Chinese challenge to the established order on Thursday.

Defending champion and top seed Serena survived a test of nerves to beat Li Na in two tiebreak sets 7-6 7-6 while the returning Henin trounced Zheng Jie 6-1 6-0 in the second semifinal in Melbourne.

The passage to Saturday's final is a triumph for Henin, who is playing just her second tournament since returning to the circuit at the start of this year after a 20-month layoff.

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She is bidding to emulate the feat of her Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters, who won last year's U.S. Open on her return from initial retirement and inspired Henin's comeback.

While she wasted little energy with a 51-minute victory, Williams had to dig deep to dispatch Li, who had upset her sister Venus in the quarterfinals 24 hours earlier.

"She's a real, real amazing fighter," Williams told the official Australian Open Web site.

"She (Venus) told me how to play her and what to do," Serena said. "It always helps when you have someone who can help you out."

She (Venus) told me how to play her and what to do
--Serena Williams

Serena, who will be chasing her 12th grand slam title, hoping to tie American legend Billie Jean King, made the early running against Li by breaking in the first game.

Li survived a set point in the ninth game before holding, then broke Williams' serve in the next game on the way to forcing a tense tiebreak.

In the tiebreak, Williams was struggling until nerves got the better of Li as she made a series of unforced errors and the top seed took advantage to close it out with a second-service ace after 58 minutes.

The second set went with serve, but 16th seed Li again dug deep to save three match points in the 10th game and another at 5-6 to force a second tiebreaker.

But Serena was not to be denied and raced to a 6-1 lead before marching into the final with her 12th ace of the match.

The unseeded Henin marked her performance with trademark steadiness against a nervous opponent who could never match her earlier performances and was playing her second grand slam semifinal after reaching the last four at Wimbledon in 2008.

Zheng won her opening service game before Henin swept the next 12 to continue her fairytale return in search of an eighth grand slam title.

"The dream continues. I am going to play the number one and defending champion," said the 27-year-old after becoming the first wildcard to reach an Australian Open women's final.

"I wasn't sure about what I would feel on the court and how things would go. I have just enjoyed my tennis and taken it step by step. I can't wait for the final now, it is an amazing feeling."

Williams, who has won her four previous Australian Open finals, holds a 7-6 lead in career meetings, beating Henin in Miami in March 2008 shortly before the Belgian announced she was quitting tennis while still world number one.