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Rediff.com  » Sports » Familiar foes block Henin's route to regaining lost glory

Familiar foes block Henin's route to regaining lost glory

Last updated on: May 26, 2010 12:31 IST

Henin back at 'home' with her batteries recharged

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Same intensity, same mesmeric backhand, same result - little has changed since Justine Henin reigned supreme at Roland Garros, not least the Belgian's chances of adding another French Open crown to her collection.

Henin left the game for 20 months after completing a rare hat-trick of titles on the Parisian clay in 2007, returning this year with her batteries recharged, her motivation replenished and the lure of life on the court proving too hard to resist.

Her game was not firing on all cylinders in an untidy first-round defeat of Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova on Tuesday, but there was enough evidence to show her game and attitude should have the higher-ranked players on their guard.

And those rivals, like Henin's clipped groundstrokes, have a familiar ring to them.


Image: Justine Henin
Photographs: Reuters
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'That generation of players is strong'

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It is the likes of the Williams sisters, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova who block her route to more slam glory, just as they did when she won her fourth title here three years ago.

"That generation is very strong," the 27-year-old Belgian said after booking a second-round berth against Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic.

"Kim (Clijsters), Serena, Venus, you know, still Kuznetsova, Dementieva after that. We have probably the experience, and there is a new generation that is coming up."

That generation may not be making the progress of other eras with only Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in the top 25 yet to see her 20th birthday, and Henin is keenly aware that the biggest threats will be familiar ones.

"It's true that not a lot of things have changed. Before I stopped and now, it's almost the same players."


Image: Justine Henin

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'I never thought I'll be on this court again'

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A little rustiness was evident in her game on Tuesday; the occasional backhand misfiring, the dynamite pace not quite there yet, but her roar of Allez after striking a winner fractions of a second before the crowd's cheers confirmed the quality of the strike showed none of her instincts have waned.

There are few more glorious sights in sport than the Henin backhand in full swing; a thing of metronomic beauty, grace and timing that seems a completely different stroke to the rest of the crowd.

The game seemed in order, now Henin needs to control the mental side if she is to collect her fifth crown here.

"When I was here two years ago and last year, it was just as a spectator. I never thought, well, 'I'll be on this court again'.

"I was feeling nervous about how I was going to come into this tournament. It's my tournament, and I didn't know really how I was going to deal with my emotions. It was very good to be back."


Image: Justine Henin

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