Justine Time, Henin makes one of the great grand slam returns

January 28, 2010

TENNIS-OPEN/Justine Henin’s storming run to the final of the Australian Open illustrates exactly what women’s tennis has been missing in her absence.

The Belgian played just one tournament in the run-up to the Melbourne grand slam following an 18-month “retirement” but it looks as though she has never been away.

Her brutal 6-1 6-0 demolition of China’s Zheng Jie in Thursday’s semi-final means she is now just one win away from emulating compatriot Kim Clijsters who won the U.S. Open last year in her first grand slam since also coming out of retirement.

World number one Serena Williams awaits in the final and logic suggests the American should be favourite. But such has been the level of Henin’s play that it is too close to call.

Either way it will be intriguing to watch two great competitors, who have not always enjoyed the best of relationships, go toe to toe on a grand slam stage again.

Sport needs great rivalries and men’s tennis has been blessed with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The WTA should be thanking their lucky stars that Henin decided she could no longer do without tennis because in her absence no one player has stepped up to the plate to take on Serena when it matters most.

Fatigue could be her Henin’s biggest obstacle on Saturday as her body reacts to the rigours of a seventh match but in terms of shot-making the diminutive Henin still has no equal in the women’s game. Her return might even inspire a few more youngsters to learn an all-court game rather than just stand on the baseline belting groundstrokes backwards and forwards.

Henin’s stature means that she has had to learn different ways to win points and possesses an awesome array of spins and angles that regularly tie opponents in knots.

Williams has nowhere near the range of Henin but her sheer power off the ground and a ferocious match temperament have allowed her to reap 11 grand slam titles.

The American largely dominated the majors in the absence of the Belgians and sometimes even looked a little bored as opponents bowed to her superior power.

Now, however, her old adversary is back in the mix and she knows she will have to raise her game another notch.

Saturday’s contest, which is hopefully the first of many more to come, should make fascinating viewing.

PHOTO: Justine Henin of Belgium serves against China’s Zheng Jie during their semi-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

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