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It’s Official: Justine Henin Makes Comeback To The WTA Tour

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin is returning to competitive tennis, making the announcement barely a week after Kim Clijsters capped her comeback from retirement with a second U.S. Open title.

Henin had been retired for just over a year, but at 27 says she has the fire and physical strength to compete for an eighth Grand Slam 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, 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 that yielded seven Grand Slam titles and one Olympic gold medal.

At 27, it certainly is not too late for a comeback. As Clijsters proved, breaking back into the top tier at short notice is far from impossible. She 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 for over a year. Throughout her retirement, during which she became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Henin looked fit enough to immediately step back onto 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 for all but seven weeks since Nov. 13, 2006, until her retirement. When she retired after a string of early tournament exits just ahead of Roland Garros, she felt the fire no longer within and gave in.

It was the first time in a life 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.

Henin Official Comeback Announcement Expected Soon

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin is expected to officially announce her comeback very soon. Belgian TV station RTBF is reporting that a press conference is expected in the next few days. Belgian newspaper De Standaard is reporting that Henin has recently ordered 14 new tennis racquets fit to her competitive requirements. Henin’s staff and representatives have been silent and have not commented on her comeback status. The four-time French Open champion, who decided to retire from tennis 16 months ago, will play two exhibition matches in Charleroi, Belgium and Dubai at the end of 2009.

Henin was signed on to appear in theaters with a play called “Arrête de pleurer Pénélope!” between October 24 and December 20, but canceled last August. Her cancellation fed rumors that she is working behind the scenes to make a return to the tennis courts, like fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open on Sunday.

Justine Henin won seven Grand Slam tournaments in her career and won the 2004 Olympic gold medal in women’s singles.

Clijsters has said in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that she would welcome Henin’s comeback. The 2009 winner of the US Open said that she isn’t afraid of Henin making a comeback and would welcome her back to the tour.