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Henin comeback adds fresh twist to Australian Open

sports Updated: Jan 13, 2010 14:48 IST

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Justine Henin has always punched above her weight but even she knows the odds are stacked against her landing a knockout blow in this month's Australian Open.

The Belgian has rejoined the professional circuit after stunning the tennis world by retiring in May 2008 when she was at the top of her game and the holder of two grand slam titles.

At the time, she had fallen out of love with the sport and wanted to experience something else apart from the relentless grind of playing, training and travelling.

But her retirement did not last long. Inspired by the successful comeback of her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, she announced in September that she was dusting off her rackets and heading back to the practice courts.

"It's been a great experience to go out of the tennis world for 18 months and to come back because I feel I grew up," she said just before her return.

"To come back to my passion, to what I love so much, after this part of my life is such a great feeling."

Henin was a revelation in the first part of her career, bucking the trend created by taller, stronger and more powerful players with her slight 1.67-metre frame.

She won 41 titles, including the French Open four times, the US Open twice, the Australian Open once and the Olympic gold in 2004. The only major title that eluded her was Wimbledon.

Will to win

Her trademark shot was her one-handed backhand, but it was her ferocious will to win that enabled her to scale the heights and Martina Navratilova once described her as the "Female Federer".

Although she won at Melbourne Park in 2004, the Australian Open has not been her favourite grand slam. In her only other appearance in the final, in 2006, she was heavily criticised for retiring midway through the second set against Amelie Mauresmo.

Henin, trailing 6-1 2-0, protested that she was injured and unable to continue but was condemned by her critics for not allowing Mauresmo to experience the joy of winning on match point.

The following year, she skipped the Australian Open because she was going through a divorce, and only made it to the quarter-finals in 2008 then quit a few months later.

She was given a wildcard into this year's Australian Open and, if the early signs are any indication, she looms as a dangerous floater, if not a genuine contender to win the title.

She made her comeback at last week's Brisbane International and made it all the way to the final, only losing out on the title after a classic rematch with Clijsters, the reigning US Open champion.

The pair, who have been rivals since they were 12 years old and starting out on the juniors circuit, slugged it out for almost 2- half hours in a wildly fluctuating match.

Henin had two match points in the third set and while she failed to take them, losing in a third set tiebreak, her fighting performance was enough to suggest she will be back near the top soon.

"I believe I can be a better player, I believe I can use my experience more than in the past," she said.

"I'm 27, now I just want to live my second career differently to how I did in the past."