Williams, Henin to meet in final

Key Biscayne, March 30:

Serena Williams beat the best the Israeli Army had to offer. Shahar Peer, a 19-year-old corporal, kept things close for an hour before Williams pulled away, winning 7-6 (4), 6-1 for a berth in the final at the Sony Ericsson Open. One test remains this week for the rejuvenated Williams: a revival on Saturday of her long-dormant rivalry with Justine Henin. The Belgian reached the Key Biscayne final for the first time by beating Anna Chakvetadze 6-2, 6-3.

Henin Vs Williams was once a fierce rivalry, but they haven’t met since the 2003 Wimbledon semi-finals. Williams has won five of their eight meetings.

Williams struggled early against the 14th-seeded Peer. In the first set Williams returned poorly, struggled with her backhand and failed to break serve. She said she was bothered by a sore left knee. Big serves kept Williams in the set. She won 12 consecutive service points to stay even, took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker and closed out the set with a service winner. Williams earned her first break early in the second set, took a 3-0 lead and punctuated the victory with her seventh ace.

With a 14-1 record this year, Williams will climb to at least 12th in next week’s rankings. She was ranked as low as 140th in 2006, when she played in only four tournaments.

The top-ranked Henin is a five-time Grand Slam champion, but until this year she had never advanced beyond the quarter-finals at Key Biscayne. She says she dislikes the island’s windy weather and tends to play poorly in March because it’s the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Qualifier Guillermo Canas and No 7 Ivan Ljubicic will meet in the men’s semi-finals. Canas, who upset top-ranked Roger Federer for the second time this month in the fourth round, advanced by beating No 6 Tommy Robredo 7-6 (5), 6-1.

A former top-10 player, Canas became the first qualifier ever to reach the men’s semis at here. Ranked 143rd at start of year after returning from a doping suspension, the Argentine will climb back into the top 40 next week. Ljubicic, last year’s runner-up to Federer, is the highest-seeded man in the final four. He defeated No 23 Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 7-5.

The other semi-final will be between two 19-year-olds, No 10 Novak Djokovic and No 12 Andy Murray.