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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 4, 2010

Tennis: Henin returns with win at Brisbane International

AP Sports Writer

BRISBANE, Australia Justine Henin couldn't even reach her first post-match news conference since coming back from retirement before the talk of her winning an eighth Grand Slam singles title began in earnest.

Henin beat second-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia 7-5, 7-5 on Monday in the first round of the Brisbane International, the former No. 1's first official tour match since announcing her comeback in September.

"I feel better today than when I retired, that's for sure," Henin said. "Better emotionally, mentally, better with myself and that makes a big difference."

Henin quit in May 2008 after spending a combined 117 weeks at No. 1, winning seven majors, an Olympic gold medal and 41 WTA titles.

The 27-year-old Belgian said she might be fitter than she was 20 months ago, and certainly felt better emotionally after Monday's victory, which followed exhibition wins last month, including one over Petrova in Cairo.

"I've been waiting for this moment for so long," Henin said. "At the beginning, everything seemed very big: the stadium, all the people. I'm not used to it anymore."

Henin said it only took three or four games to settle back into the rhythm.

"Mentally, I was able to play my best when the score was tight at the end of both sets," she said. "I really enjoyed being out there that's what I'm going to remember today."

Being more aggressive on her serve has been a priority for the diminutive Belgian, who knows she needs to earn more easy points against the bigger women on the tour to remain competitive.

"I worked very hard and changed a few things in my game," she said. "If I want to stay on tour for a few more years I have no choice (but) to be more aggressive."

In Hong Kong, where they are taking part in an exhibition tournament ahead of the Australian Open, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova predicted Henin will once again be a force.

"She was a great champion before," Williams said. "She can keep on playing great tennis,"

Sharapova added that Henin's return is good for the women's tour.

"It adds to the great storyline of comebacks we've had, with Kim (Clijsters) as well coming back and winning a Grand Slam," Sharapova said. "When you're doing something you love, you're a champion, you're good at it and you don't have it for a while to get it back, to get that feeling back as a competitor, it's always great."

Henin is playing in Brisbane this week and Sydney next week on wild-card entries as she prepares for the Australian Open, her first major in two years.

After sprinting to the net and producing a deep, winning lob in the eighth game of the second set, she yelled "Allez" and pumped her fist in her trademark way. She advanced to play Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan, who beat Australia's Casey Dellacqua 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 (1).

Earlier, 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic won the last three games to finish off a tight tussle over Australian Jelena Dokic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3. The third-seeded Ivanovic hasn't played since a first-round exit at Tokyo in September.

"Obviously there were nerves in the beginning," Ivanovic said, "but I did a really good preparation and that gave me a lot of confidence."

Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat fifth-seeded compatriot Alisa Kleybanova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, and Czech player Lucie Safarova beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1.

Top-seeded Andy Roddick beat Australia's Peter Luczak 7-6 (5), 6-2 in a night match. He clinched the first set with three straight points, closing with his 13th ace, and broke Luczak in the fifth and seventh games of the second while saving a break point before serving out.

Defending champion Radek Stepanek extended his winning streak at the Brisbane tournament to six matches with a 6-4, 6-0 win over local wild-card entry John Millman.

Richard Gasquet beat Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in his first match since the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month rejected an appeal from the World Anti-Doping Agency and International Tennis Federation over a March drug test.

The CAS accepted Gasquet's claim that he inadvertently consumed cocaine by kissing a woman in a Miami club hours after withdrawing from a tournament because of an injury.

"It is just good for me to play with nothing in the head," said Gasquet, who was a semifinalist here last year. "It was most important I could play relaxed."

In other men's first-round results, Colombia's Alejandro Falla beat seventh-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 6-4, and eighth-seeded Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil defeated Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Associated Press Writer Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.