Henin returns with win at Brisbane International

Jan 4, 2010 - 7:38 PM By JOHN PYE AP Sports Writer

BRISBANE, Australia(AP) -- Justine Henin played as if she never left. She didn't even make it to her first post-match news conference since coming out of retirement before talk began about when she'll win an eighth Grand Slam singles title.

Henin beat second-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia 7-5, 7-5 in the first round of the Brisbane International on Monday, 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."

She is preparing to make her return to Grand Slam action at the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 18.

Henin abruptly left the tour in May 2008 after spending a total of 117 weeks at No. 1, winning seven major championships, an Olympic gold medal and 41 WTA titles overall. Now she is back, perhaps inspired by another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, who returned to the tour after about two years away and promptly won last year's U.S. Open.

The 27-year-old Henin said she might be in stronger physical shape than she was 20 months ago. She certainly felt better psychologically after Monday's victory, which followed exhibition wins last month, including one over Petrova.

"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 into a 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 be 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."

Grand Slam champions and former No. 1 players Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova - taking part in an exhibition event in Hong Kong - both predicted Henin will once again be a force.

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

Sharapova called Henin's return good for the women's tour.

"It adds to the great story line of comebacks we've had, with Kim 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 gets ready for her first major tournament in two years.

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

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

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat fifth-seeded Alisa Kleybanova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in all-Russian matchup, and Lucie Safarova beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1.

In men's action, top-seeded Andy Roddick beat Peter Luczak 7-6 (5), 6-2 at night. Roddick closed the first set 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 tournament to six matches with a 6-4, 6-0 win over local wild card John Millman.

Richard Gasquet beat 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 ingested 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, Alejandro Falla beat seventh-seeded Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 6-4, and eighth-seeded Thomaz Bellucci defeated Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.


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

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