Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Henin overcomes ring rust to advance in Paris

NEW NAME, NEW GAME After a shaky start to her first game since November, the diminutive Belgian admitted she had a fair way to go before she is her old self again

AFP , PARIS

Belgium's Justine Henin returns a backhand to her French opponent Emilie Loit at the Paris Open on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

French Open champion Justine Henin admitted it was not just her life that needed piecing back together following the split from her husband of four years, but also her game.

Henin took to the court at the Paris Indoor Open on Wednesday for the first time since mid-November and showed a significant amount of ring rust in an error-strewn first set of her second round clash.

The 24-year-old Belgian quickly found her rhythm after dropping the first set 6-3 against France's Emilie Loit before racing away with the next two 6-2, 6-2 for a place in the quarter-finals.

But she admitted that she has a fair way to go before she will be back to her old self.

"In the first set I just wasn't playing. I didn't take the initiative," Henin said.

"I waited a while and then my level rose. I was very happy after that. I played the first set on the defensive without being positive, but then I started volleying more and hitting more to her backhand. But I didn't move well and was a lot slower around the court than before," she said.

Henin has long suffered from illness and injury and is one of the least active players on the women's circuit.

However, that did not stop her having her best ever season last year, winning the French Open, reaching the final of all four Grand Slams, claiming six tour titles and reaching the final of 10 of her 13 events.

She also won the end of year Tour Championship.

But this season started badly for Henin as the break-up from husband Pierre-Yves Hardenne forced her out of the Sydney International and Australian Open.

Now back on court and desperate to put the last couple of months behind her, Henin realizes her game will take time to click fully into gear.

"I've had a lot to cope with these last few weeks and it's always good to get your first one under your belt when you come back," she said. "I now know what I can expect from myself."

That unknown factor is a big hurdle for the diminutive Belgian to overcome as she has a long history of physical troubles.

Seventh seed Dinara Safina survived a marathon battle against Camille Pin to also take her place in the last eight.

Safina recovered from dropping the opening set to win this second round clash 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) in just under two and a quarter hours of gripping contest.

Third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia also survived a marathon and a poor start as she overcame Slovenia's Katarina Srebotnik 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) to reach the quarters.

Moscow-born Tatiana Golovin won the battle of the French teenagers with a 6-2, 6-2 first round victory over Alize Cornet.

Eighth seeded Russian Anna Chakvetadze thrashed compatriot Olga Poutchkova 6-2, 6-0.

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