Craig Hickman has done his typically excellent job of summarizing the background as well as the liabilities and strengths of both Serena Williams and Justine Henin coming into tonight's final (which will be on at 12:30am PST, 3:30am EST Saturday).
Briefly, Serena leads their overall head-to-head 7-6, (4-1 on hard courts) but trails 2-4 in major tournaments, the majority of which came in a string of 3 losses to the Belgian in 3 consecutive grand slam quarterfinals in 2007. Their last meeting was a devastating 6-2 6-0 demolition of Henin by Serena in Miami in March the following year; 6 weeks later Henin announced her retirement from competitive tennis.
Despite winning the doubles title with her sister for the second consecutive year, Serena's physical frailty is apparent. In her tense semi-final win over Li Na, Serena at times was barely moving. Her serve has kept her in the tournament and has been impeccable. Henin has been serving atrociously but her overall game is still as impressive as it was before her hiatus; she possesses every shot in tennis, combined with surprising power and superior movement. She has displayed mental frailty like in her Brisbane loss to Clijsters and in her win against Elena Dementieva, but she has the support of her coach Carlos Rodriguez to draw upon.
Serena has the sharpest competitive spirit of any player on tour, and particularly in Australia Serena has often played some of her best tennis on her way to winning four Australian Open titles (in 2003 over Venus in what some commentators call the most competitive match between the sisters; in 2005 over Lindsay Davenport after trailing a set and a break she won 9 games in a row to win the title--this after saving two match points against Maria Sharapova the round before; and in 2007 over Sharapova she displayed her most impressive level of play, ever only allowing her opponent a mere 3 games).
Although I have correctly predicted the outcomes of 3 of the last 6 matches in the tournament, I want to change my method for prognostication and try and use probabilities (I am a math professor after all!) There are four possible occurrences: Serena in 2 sets, Serena in 3 sets, Henin in 3 sets and Henin in 2 sets). I evaluate the probabilities of these events at 54%, 40%, 60% and46%, respectively. (Of course these probabilities are simply estimates, with the 2-set probability coming directly from their overall head-to-head record and the 3-set probability coming from my assessment of Serena's stamina). Crunching the numbers that gives Henin an overall 53% chance of winning, which is significantly better than a coin toss.
MadProfessah's pick: Henin (Williams in 2 sets, Henin in 3 sets).