September 22, 2009

What Did I Tell Ya?

Several months ago I opined on Kim Clijsters return to the WTA Tour, mentioning how I hoped it would spur another former #1, Justine Henin, to also return to the game.

At the time Henin was clear that she had no intention of coming back, but today, just ten days since her countrywoman claimed the crown in New York, she announced her intent to re-enter the circuit in January.

Of course I'm thrilled about her return -- I've been longing to have such an elegant and powerful athlete back in the game. But it makes me wonder what the sport's going to look like for the young stars still trying to make a name for themselves.

Current #1 Dinara Safina can't be happy. Yes, she won the pair's last meeting, Henin's final appearance before calling it quits -- but she'd lost five times before that, never even taking a set. The Williams sisters are, of course, less intimidated -- Serena has won just more than half of their thirteen contents, Venus leads seven to two.

But then there's U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, whose counter-punching style may not be able to withstand the surprising bursts of power contained within the teeny Belgian. And recent clay-court champions like Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic might find it hard to repeat at Roland Garros against the four-time French Open champion -- she's beaten both in the Paris finals before.

And then there are those who've never faced Justine -- Victoria Azarenka, earlier this year touted as one of the favorites on the hard courts, Sorana Cirstea, who made her breakthrough on the red clay, and even Sam Stosur, one of the most consistently successful players of 2009, have no first-hand experience with Henin on the pro Tour and are bound to be in for a nasty surprise as they try to establish themselves at the top of the game.

She hasn't been gone for two years yet, but already the women's game has changed so much. I can't wait to see what Justine brings back to the court and how today's stars respond to the threat of not one, but two champions back in the mix -- and I can't wait to see the rivalry with Clijsters reignited.

And if the summer season's proved anything, there's definitely room for her back at the top!

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