‘’Once a champion, always a champion.’’
On Monday at Brisbane this statement was very much validated as the world saw the white-capped talent from Belgium striking and slicing the tennis ball with grace that we have always known.
The shouts of ‘’Allez’’ were back, the fist-pumps were right there and the fiery and steely resolve in the eyes shone brightly once again.
Yes, it was pretty much the familiar picture—Justine Henin was back!
The diminutive seven-time Grand Slam champion who played a competitive tennis match after 20 months of retirement indeed vindicated her decision of coming back to the sport.
Initially though, her shots looked a little rusty, they started gaining more pace and power as the match progressed.
This time the forehands were more punishing than the famed single-handed backhand. But what was more noticeable was that she was beginning to become a more aggressive player than what she used to be before.
And so it was in less than two hours that she claimed her second victory over 20th-ranked Nadia Petrova 7-5, 7-5 after convincingly beating her in an exhibition match in Cairo in early December.
Henin may not be at her very best but a couple more matches might make her a fearsome prospect for any of her rivals.
For even after 20 months of absence from the tennis court, her movement has been absolutely slick and awe-inspiring.
And the brilliant resilience too was very much visible as she thwarted Petrova’s progress in the second set after being broken in the very first game.
The super comeback of the 27-year-old Belgian powerhouse has already made her a topic in the locker-room discussions ahead of the Australian Open.
The vanquished Petrova has already started siding with her conqueror. Calling her "a more aggressive and dangerous player," Petrova has predicted Henin to sweep all at Brisbane including Henin’s compatriot, Kim Clijsters.
Petrova and Ana Ivanovic have even gone to the extent of calling the former World No. 1 an early front-runner for the year’s first Grand Slam.
Henin’s return surely rejuvenates the WTA Tour and gives a huge boost to the level of competition we have witnessed in the last few months. Her sudden and shocking retirement in May, 2008 left the Tour crippled and interest of the fans waning.
In a series of homecoming for the champions, Kim Clijsters unretired herself after nearly two and a half years and immediately captured the U.S. Open.
Maria Sharapova came back from a surgery-induced 10 months layoff and she has been improving with every match.
The latest to join the comeback queens is Henin and her return only completes whatever the WTA had been missing all this time.
With the Williams sisters, the Belgians, the Russians and the spirited youngsters all back in full force, there can be no better time to enjoy WTA tennis!