Henin happy to be in Melbourne after second layoff

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Justine Henin is predicting none of the fireworks that propelled her to the final of the Australian Open last year but simply feels happy that her elbow has calmed down enough to let her compete at Melbourne Park.

The former world number one made an emotional return to grand slam tennis in Melbourne last year after taking 20 months out of the game and is now mounting a second comeback after being out for six months following a partial ligament fracture she sustained at Wimbledon.

"Yeah, I feel very happy and very lucky I can be here because still, yeah, like I explained in Perth, a few weeks, a month ago, I wasn't quite sure I could be here," said Henin, who made a successful return with Belgium at the Hopman Cup, beating local hope Alicia Molik.

"It was tough, after five months of my comeback, to be away for such a long period.

"I'll probably need a few more months to be completely free of the pain in my elbow. It doesn't mean I cannot compete and try to, yeah, be close to my best or what I can produce.

"But I need matches. I need rhythm. I need a lot of things.

But we all know a lot of things can happen."

Henin, who spent her first break from the game working doing a reality TV show and working as an U.N. ambassador in Southeast Asia and Africa, has also been busy in her latest layoff.

She moved house to Brussels and has been traveling to her tennis academies in China and the United States. Some 1,500 students are in the Brussels academy alone.

BITTERSWEET ENDING

"It's great to be by the young players' side and just try to help them grow up, not only in terms of being champions, but just in terms of human being. We just do the best we can. It's a great experience," she said.

The seven-time grand slam champion arrived in Melbourne last year as an unknown quantity, a wildcard still finding her feet in her second tournament back after quitting, disillusioned with the game, in May 2008.

Few backed her to mow her way through six opponents and her loss to Serena Williams in the final on Saturday was a bittersweet ending to a fairy-tale run.

"It was more than a dream," the 28-year-old Henin said.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't go to the end. So I have some regrets about last year and the final. But the level I played after being away for a year and a half was just great.

"I love to play here. I hope (last year's experience is) going to help me again this year."

Finding her self-belief was the Belgian's main task last year but this year, her greatest challenge is physical.

Getting her elbow into condition is like warming up an old car after a winter's morning.

"I need everything -- the tendon, ligament, the muscles -- to be warm.

"So it's a lot of workout every day. First minutes of the practice are pretty tough for me. I need 10 minutes to really get into it."

(Editing by John O'Brien)