Former #1 Henin Will Return to Tennis

Justine Henin of Belgium kisses her championship trophy after her two set victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in the women's finals at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Former No. 1 Justine Henin has announced her return to competitive tennis for next year.

Henin had been retired for just over a year, but at 27 she says has the fire and physical strength to compete for an eighth Grand Slam title. Her announcement comes barely a week after Kim Clijsters capped her comeback from retirement with a second U.S. Open title.

Her announcement on VTM television capped an about-face that went from her "definitive decision" to retire last year, to weeks of no comment to a smiling admission Tuesday that she truly missed the game too much.

She wants to play two exhibition tournaments, in Charleroi, Belgium, and Dubai, to hone her skills ahead of a competitive return next year with plans to compete in the next Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open.

"The fire within burns again," Henin said. "I want to come back in January."

Henin officially retired on May 14, 2008, initially rejecting any thought of a comeback with a dogged determination that had come to mark her play throughout a decade-long career which yielded seven Grand Slam titles and one Olympic gold medal.

At 27, it certainly is not too late for a comeback. As Clijsters has proved, breaking back into the top tier at short notice is far from impossible. Clijsters won the U.S. Open in her third tournament since announcing her return.

"Subconsciously, it might have had an impact," Henin said of Clijster's successful comeback. "But it certainly was not the most important reason."

Like Clijsters, Henin is still in her prime and has been able to rest her body with its aches and pains for over a year. Throughout her retirement, during which she became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, she looked fit enough to immediately step back on to a court.

As recently as May, she complained about the old injuries that still gave her pain in the mornings and the dreaded life of living in a bubble as she was shuttled around the world chasing victories.

"The last 15 months I've been able to recharge the batteries, emotionally as well," Henin said.

Henin said coming face to face with the world's misery on UNICEF trips to places like eastern Congo widened her horizons like tennis never could.

Henin has won nearly $20 million in prize money and had been ranked No. 1 bar seven weeks since Nov. 13, 2006, until her retirement. When she retired after a string of early tournament exits just ahead of her beloved Roland Garros, she felt the fire no longer within and gave in.

It was the first time in a life that was totally centered around her prodigious talent for whipping backhands past hapless competitors. She became the first woman player to retire as No. 1.

Then, suddenly, this summer the craving came back.

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