Henin hopes for tough ride in Melbourne

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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Justine Henin insists her comeback at next week's Australian Open will be no mere cameo and called on her opponents to test her to her limit.

The former world number one reached the final in Brisbane last week in her first tournament back after 18 months out of the game and said the tough three-set loss to fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters was exactly what she needed.

"I couldn't expect something better than what happened in Brisbane in terms of the rhythm and intensity of the game that pushed me to another level that I wasn't use to anymore," the 27-year-old told reporters Saturday.

"That match really helped me. I still need these kind of matches to really take my game to another level."

After a first-round encounter against compatriot Kirsten Flipkens, Henin may get exactly what she wishes for at Melbourne Park with Russian fifth seed Elena Dementieva a likely second-round encounter.

Should she progress, Henin could set up a quarter-final against either 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova or Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open on her own comeback last year.

Henin, who quit the game in 2008, said she was now "200 percent" committed to her job and had a new calmness and maturity which would help her return to her best.

"I learned a lot of things in the last 18 months. I wouldn't say I've changed but I probably grew up," she said. "Now I think that I'm going to be as engaged as I was before.

"The experience I had the last two years will help me more calm, more quiet and more mature with my life on the tour."


Henin, who was given a wild card to play here, admitted to feeling curious about how she would feel returning to Melbourne Park, where she defeated Clijsters in the final in 2004.

"It was great to be on the Rod Laver (Arena) again, to hit on this magical court, to see all these people again, people that I didn't see for a long time," she said.

"A few things have changed outside but the atmosphere is still the same... It's a great feeling to be back. Grand slam is a different kind of atmosphere.

"It takes a lot of energy, so I need a dew days to find my place again. I feel it's my place to be here."

Henin has overcome leg and foot soreness that forced her withdrawal from this week's Sydney International and is "almost" at full fitness before the year's first grand slam.

"I still need to get my confidence again and it will take probably a few weeks, probably a few tournaments maybe a few months to really be at my top," she said.

"I don't plan my career on three of four weeks here in Australia, it's for the next few months when I have a little bit more experience.

"It doesn't mean I cannot win matches (like at Brisbane). I come with the same attitude in Melbourne."

(Editing by Alastair Himmer)