WORLD number one Serena Williams will need to end the fairytale return of Justine Henin if she is to successfully defend her Australian Open title after they reached the final with contrasting wins yesterday.

Williams, who is bidding to win her fifth title at Melbourne, needed two tie-break sets to overcome the plucky challenge of Li Na 7-6 (7/4) 7-6 (7-1) in a shade over two hours.

Henin spent less than half that time on court as she breezed through her semifinal against the unseeded Zheng Jie 6-1 6-0 in only 51 minutes.

It was by far Henin’s easiest match of her difficult passage to the final that has seen her beat world number five Elena Dementieva, Yanina Wickmayer (16) and Nadia Petrova (19) before facing the daunting prospect of the world number one in tomorrow’s final.

Henin is competing in just her second tournament back after a 20-month retirement and has admitted to feeling fatigued in between matches as she reacquaints herself with the rigours of the tour.

But after her serene passage yesterday, the seventime grand slam winner is confident she will be in peak condition for the final.

“I’ve been playing a lot of tough matches in the last two weeks so that was the best to recover today,” she said.

Williams admitted she had been fully tested by Li as she was forced to dig deep for the second match running to progress.

The American had needed four match points before she finally won the contest with an ace.

“I had so many match points and I blew it,” a relieved Williams said.

‘‘I knew on serve (in the tie-break) I had the chance to close it out and I did. I had to because she is an amazing fighter.’’ Williams and Henin have remarkably never met in a grand slam final despite sharing 18 titles between them, although the Belgian knocked her American rival out in the quarter-finals of three grand slams in 2007 – the year before she retired.