'10 season gets underway, Henin returns this weekend

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2010 ATP and WTA seasons will get underway next week (actually this weekend), when a bevy of stars will take to hardcourts in Australia, Qatar, India and New Zealand for some Australian Open tune-ups.

The great Roger Federer and pretty-darn-good Rafael Nadal will headline a star-studded field in Doha, but the big story of the week will be the return of former world No. 1 great Justine Henin, in Brisbane.

The gritty Henin retired from the WTA Tour in May of 2008, but, in a change of heart, announced her return to the circuit just a few months ago. When "Juju" retired in the spring of '08, she was the No. 1 player in the world, and was then the reigning U.S. Open champ and three-time reigning French Open titlist.

The former Aussie Open champion Henin wants to return to professional tennis for a host of reasons, perhaps none bigger than her desire to capture the lone major that's eluded her to this point -- Wimbledon -- where she finished as a runner-up two times this decade (2001, 2006).

Justine Henin will play her first WTA Tour tennis since the spring of 2008 next week.
The 27-year-old Henin is a seven-time major titlist, with a majority of her titles (four) coming on the red clay at Roland Garros.

Henin feels that she has matured during her hiatus from the sport and can be an even better player now.

The Belgian star held a news conference this week where she said she "grew up" during her break from tennis and thinks she can eclipse the standard she set in winning her seven majors.

"I believe I can be a better player, I believe I can use my experience more than in the past," Henin said. "When you are into (playing tennis at) 200 percent you have no time to realize it. You are too involved all the time and all this time off helped me to realize everything I achieved."

"What I can say is I know myself much better and that's the most important thing," she added. "I'm 27 now, I just want to live my second career differently to how I did in the past. It's been a great experience to go out of the tennis world for 18 months and to come back because I feel I grew up."

When asked if she can win the Aussie Open next month, Henin said it's "possible."

Henin will be joined in the Brisbane field by fellow Belgian and long-time rival Kim Clijsters, who came out of retirement herself earlier this year and stunned the tennis world by capturing a second U.S. Open title in only her third tournament back. That, of course, may have been yet another inspiration for Henin, who's better than anyone on the women's tour when healthy, and has certainly achieved more than Clijsters on court.

The potentially-rusty Henin will also play the following week in Sydney, where the 2004, 2006 and 2008 champ there will play in a stacked draw that will also feature the diminutive Belgian's arch rival, and reigning world No. 1 superstar, Serena Williams, French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, two-time major finalist Elena Dementieva and former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic. Serena is the reigning Aussie Open, Wimbledon and Tour Championships titleholder, while the ultra-fit Dementieva was last year's titlist in Sydney.

Back to the men, in Doha.

Rafael Nadal, along with Roger Federer, will be part of next week's men's field in Doha.
The Doha field will be led by the 2005 and 2006 champion Federer and Nadal, but they'll also be joined by the likes of surprise ATP World Tour Finals champ Nikolay Davydenko and flashy French slugger Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Federer is coming off an outstanding year for him, both professionally and personally, as he captured half of the Grand Slam events (Wimbledon, U.S. Open), while playing in all four of the finals; regained the world No. 1 ranking, after losing it to Nadal in 2008; married his long-time girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec; and became the proud father of twin girls.

Other than that, his year was fairly laid back..

Nadal, on the other hand, followed up his remarkable '08 season by struggling with injuries for the better part of '09. Rafa was slowed by knee and abdominal ailments and was unable to play in, or defend his title at, Wimbledon, where he toppled Federer in the final in one of the greatest sporting events of all-time.

Rafa opened last season by capturing his first-ever Aussie Open crown by besting Federer in the final, but was stunned by free-swinging Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round at the French Open, where he'd never lost before; skipped Wimbledon with some knee issues; and surrendered his spot atop the men's rankings to the 15-time Grand Slam master that is the Fed.

Nadal did, however, help Spain capture a second straight Davis Cup championship to close out his up-and down campaign.

Can Rafa regain his '08 form in '10?

Back over to the women.

Henin and Clijsters won't be the only stars coming out in Brisbane, as the men's portion of the tourney will be spearheaded by Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick, who'll play his first tennis since suffering a knee injury that forced him to shut down his tennis operations back in October.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned French Open runner-up Soderling will headline a field in Chennai (India), while the top woman on hand in Auckland will be ever-improving Italian Flavia Pennetta, who helped Italy capture a second Fed Cup title in four years this past fall.

The 2010 Aussie Open will commence January 18 at Melbourne Park, where the reigning champs will be the stalwarts Nadal and Serena, who already owns four Oz Open crowns (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009).

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley
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