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Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 18:06 UK

Henin plans 2010 tennis comeback

Justine Henin
Henin last played competitively in Berlin in May, 2008

Former world number one Justine Henin has announced she will return to competitive tennis in 2010, having retired just 16 months ago.

The 27-year-old Belgian, who won 41 singles titles including seven Grand Slams, sparked rumours of a comeback when she began training again recently.

Henin retired on 14 May, 2008, saying she had lost her passion for tennis.

Her return follows the fairytale comeback of compatriot Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open earlier this month.

"I'm really happy and deeply moved to be able to announce tonight that I'm coming back to competitive tennis," Henin said as she made the announcement live on Belgian television.

"I know it's surprising because on 14 May 2008 I put a definitive end to my tennis career but then there was a long personal path throughout these past 15 months, which was enriching.

"I discovered a lot of things about myself and that allowed me to feel things again and then there was a flame that was re-lit which I had thought had been put out forever."

The desire to win Wimbledon is one of the main reasons she's come back

Henin's coach Carlos Rodriguez

Henin plans to play two exhibition tournaments this year, in Charleroi, Belgium, and Dubai, before returning to competition at the Australian Open in January.

"The goal is to come back in January, in Australia, but I don't know," she said. "I have four months and I don't know how my preparation is going to develop, but that's the aim.

"It's hard when you used to be able to do things so well, as I did in the past, to have to start again from the basics, with patience which isn't my greatest quality.

"So I have a lot of work ahead of me but day by day I'm finding there are little things that are getting better.

"I think that the most difficult thing will be creating the foundations as I know I have slowed down and I used to be a really really quick player and that was my main quality but that will happen soon.

Born: Liege, Belgium
Age: 27
Residence: Monte Carlo
Height: 1.67m (5ft 5ins)
Grand Slam titles: Australian Open (2004), US Open (2003, 2007), French Open (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007)
Career singles titles: 41
Prize money: $19,461,375

"I just have to be patient, accept that it will take time and work hard every day - and that's what I'm doing."

Henin added: "It's going well, there's a lot of pleasure on the court and that's the most important thing.

"I'm getting back all those old feelings day by day and that's really pleasing."

And Henin's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, said her ambition to win a first Wimbledon title after twice finishing runner-up was a driving force.

"I swear I was extremely surprised," he said. "I'm happy because at the end of the day it's what she loves.

"She has entrusted me (to be her coach) once again and I will try to never let her down.

"I'm very happy to be helping her to restart her new life. It's a super challenge for her. The desire to win Wimbledon is one of the main reasons she's come back and I'll do everything to help her do it."

And Henin herself admitted that success at the All England Club is her chief aim, saying: "It is a dream of mine. I want to work to get it. I make it a priority."

Sport Monthly - Judy Murray visits Justine Henin's tennis academy

Clijsters returned to the sport after two-and-a-half years away, during which time she gave birth to a daughter, Jada.

After barely a month back on the tour, the 26-year-old former world number one beat both Venus and Serena Williams on her way to success at Flushing Meadows.

However, Henin said that Clijsters had not been the main motivation behind her own decision to return.

"Subconsciously, it might have had an impact," said Henin. "But it certainly was not the most important reason."

She added: "Returning at that level so fast is something I respect enormously."

Henin had played down speculation of a comeback in May, saying that the sport had left her with so many physical ailments a return was unthinkable.

But since the revelation that she was back in training, she had refused to speculate on a possible return to the WTA Tour.

Following her retirement, Henin, who was ranked number one in the world when she quit, had been working as a goodwill ambassador for Unicef and opened her own tennis academy.

She won the French Open four times, the US Open twice, the Australian Open once and an Olympic gold in 2004.

Henin's relatively small stature - she is only 5ft 5ins tall - and elegant one-handed backhand made her stand out among her rivals.

Her last competitive match was a three-set defeat by current world number one Dinara Safina at the German Open on 8 May, 2008.

The news of Henin's return comes as huge boost for women's tennis, which had been struggling for competition at the very highest level before Clijsters' shock US Open win.

"Justine is one of the great champions in the history of women's tennis, and we, along with millions of her fans around the globe, are thrilled with her announcement today," said Stacey Allaster, chairman and chief executive of the WTA Tour.

"Justine is that rare athlete who decided to step away from the game at the height of her powers, and no doubt she will be a force to be reckoned with from the get-go.

"Her career was marked by so many amazing moments, and a new chapter begins today."

Justine Henin

Archive - Henin wins fourth French Open

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see also
Henin announces shock retirement
14 May 08 |  Tennis
Henin bows out at the top
14 May 08 |  Tennis
Henin 'is best of her generation'
15 May 08 |  Tennis
Justine Henin's career in photos
14 May 08 |  Tennis
Henin suffers shock Berlin defeat
08 May 08 |  Tennis
Clijsters seals dream US Open win
14 Sep 09 |  Tennis
Lay-off aided US run - Clijsters
14 Sep 09 |  Tennis

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