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Federer, Serena undisputed king and queen

Federer, Serena undisputed king and queen
Melbourne:  Roger Federer and Serena Williams reaffirmed themselves as the undisputed king and queen of tennis as the Australian Open kicked off the new season, while Chinese players gave a glimpse of the future.

The opening Grand Slam of the year will also be remembered for the remarkable return of Justine Henin, who entered as a wildcard and set pulses racing with her run to the final.

Meanwhile, injuries to some of the world's top players, including Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina, once again reheated the debate over a shorter season.

In the end, the championships belonged to Federer and Williams, who once again justified their rankings as the number one players in the world.

The consistent Federer was in the zone as he won his 16th Grand Slam title, beating a gutsy, and hugely improved, Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13/11) in the final.

It means the British men's Grand Slam drought continues, 74 years after the last win.

"I'm over the moon winning this title again," said Federer. "I played some of the best tennis in my life over the last two weeks."

At 28, Williams now has 12 Grand Slam titles and said she has no plans to slow down as she looks to cement her place among the all-time greats.

"I don't even think of me as a great, I think of me just as normal," she said after ending the Henin dream, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, in the final.

"I don't see an end now -- I feel like (I'll keep playing) as long as I'm happy and I want to do it and I enjoy being out there."

The return of former world number one Henin added a welcome new twist to the women's game and her comeback was the feel good story of the tournament as she chewed up three seeds on the way to the final.

The Belgian proved she has lost none of her tenacity or skills.

"I learned a lot of things in the last few weeks," she said.

"Many things were positive in my game, on and off the court, and I think I really enjoyed every moment of it."

The breakthrough of Chinese players was another theme running through the tournament, with Li Na and Zheng Jie both making the semi-finals.

It was an historic achievement that had never been managed before at Grand Slam level and WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster acknowledged how important the growth of the game in China was to the future of women's tennis.

"It is very significant," she said of China. "Building the business in China is critically important."

While Li and Zheng's star was shining, others were fading.

Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion, crashed out in the first round with other early casualties including Serbian pair, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.

Injuries came back to haunt several players with world number two Nadal forced to retire from his quarter-final with Murray with a hamstring-related injury.

Similarly, women's world number two Safina was forced out in the fourth round with a recurrence of back problems.

The shattered Russian described her latest injury setback as "really, really terrible," with her immediate career in limbo.

Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Novak Djokovic were others to leave the tournament with injuries or health issues.

Djokovic said the leading players were united in their push for a shorter season, to allow their bodies time to heal.

"That is the highest priority, because players feel like the season is just too long," he said.

While Melbourne's traditional January heat did not compromise the schedule, rain did in the first few days.

But overall organisers were happy, with plans announced for a major redevelopment of Melbourne Park to ensure the Grand Slam stays in Australia, with cities like Shanghai and Doha keen to get their hands on the tournament.

The only black mark was the return of hooligans on the opening day, with 11 people thrown out for unruly behaviour and another group banned from entering.
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