Tennis: Clijsters-Henin classic shows the Belgians are back
One classic match was all it took for Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin to serve notice that the Belgians are back and looking to dominate women's tennis.
All the more remarkable was that Clijsters was playing only her fifth tournament since making a comeback to the sport, and Henin was playing her first after deciding to end her 20-month retirement.
With the year's first Grand Slam just a week away, Clijsters said it would not be long before both Belgians would be back among the sport's elite.
"I think with the level that we both played today, I think we are both capable of getting back into the top 10 and I think it won't take long for Justine to have a crack at that," Clijsters said following her win.
"The level was so high.
"It's fun to play in a big match when you are both playing good tennis and that's what it's all about."
Clijsters noted that this time around it would be a three-pronged attack from Belgium, with the two old-stagers joined by a fresh-faced newcomer in Yanina Wickmayer, 20.
"Belgian tennis is on a very high level today," Clijsters said.
"Yanina Wickmayer won in Auckland today -- so it was a good day for Belgian tennis."
The 26-year-old Clijsters said that in the past she had often been overwhelmed by the occasion when playing Henin, and her tennis had suffered as a result.
"That's something that really bothered me in the previous meetings against her -- that I wasn't always able to play my best tennis -- and that's something today that I feel I definitely improved, and that to me is the most positive thing to come out of this match," she said.
"I hope there will be many more and I think we set the bar very high for the rest of the year."
Henin, 27, who injured her leg late in the third set, said the tournament had given her a big boost ahead of the Australian Open.
"I would say it was the most intense match we've played," she said.
"I'm really happy, it gives me the confidence I need before the Open."
Clijsters too will head to Melbourne full of confidence.
"It's fun to play a match like this," she said.
"There were rallies out there where we were both laughing and both having fun, and that's what it should be like.
"It's moments like that make you appreciate one another but also make you appreciate how lucky we are to be playing the sport and being a part of a great match like that."AFP/Expatica