Henin-Hardenne's just warmin' up

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just like her countrywoman Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne has returned from injury to reclaim her place among the top players on the women's tour.

In only her second tournament since returning from injury/illness, Henin- Hardenne came up a big winner at last week's Family Circle Cup in Charleston. The bad news for the rest of the tour is that the diminutive Belgian is still not satisfied with her game as we creep towards the French Open.

"It's still very far from now and I still have many things to improve now to the French Open and nothing is done," she said.

JH-H missed a good portion of the 2004 season as she battled an energy- draining illness, and her 2005 campaign didn't get underway until March because of a knee injury, which prevented her from defending her title at the Australian Open back in January.

Justine Henin-Hardenne
The former world No. 1 Henin-Hardenne is already 9-1 and owns a title in this comeback campaign.
The three-time Grand Slam champion ended 2003 at No. 1 in the world and held down that position for most of the '04 season until a virus wreaked havoc on her schedule. She still managed to win five tournaments last season, including the Aussie Open and Athens Olympics, going 35-4 on her way to a year-end No. 8 finish.

Currently at No. 22 (up from No. 43 last week), Henin-Hardenne moved her '05 record to 9-1 when she straight-setted tough Russian Elena Dementieva 7-5, 6-4 in this past Sunday's attractive finale in Charleston. She also had to get past promising French star Tatiana Golovin in the semis and current world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the quarters. The Belgian star was leading Davenport 1-0 in the third set of their round-of-eight bout when the big American retired with a hip injury.

The 2004 U.S. and French Open runner-up Dementieva said Henin-Hardenne is "even better than she was before her illness." Dementieva is a dismal 1-7 lifetime against the sweet-swingin' Belgian.

Henin-Hardenne also captured the Family Circle Cup in 2003, beating her arch- rival Serena Williams in the final. Her victory this year made her only the second unseeded player to capture the 32-year-old event, where she's a perfect 11-0 in two trips.

Henin-Hardenne's lone defeat so far this season came at the hands of Russian superstar Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals at the prestigious Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami a few weeks ago. It marked her first WTA action since September when she suffered a fourth-round loss against another Russian, Nadia Petrova, while trying to defend her title at the U.S. Open.

The 22-year-old baseliner plays a beautiful brand of ball, highlighted by the best one-handed backhand in the women's game. She now looks like one of the favorites for the upcoming French Open, where she reigned supreme in 2003 by beating Clijsters in a historic all-Belgian final. JH-H also bested Clijsters in the '04 Aussie Open finale and the 2003 U.S. Open title tilt.

Henin-Hardenne's success in Charleston marked her 20th career title, placing her 23rd on the all-time list and seventh on the active titles ledger. She's also 15th on the all-time money list ($7.910 million) and eighth on the active money scroll.

A fixture in the top 10 since 2001, the seven-year pro will surely finish there once again when 2005 is all said and done.

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Scott Riley
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