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Tennis: The passion is back, says resurgent Henin

MELBOURNE – Henin defeated young countrywoman Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena, showing everyone she has lost none of the class that took her to world number one before she retired in May 2008.

"It’s, yeah, magical out there the way I feel," said the seven-time Grand Slam champion, who will play Russian 19th seed Nadia Petrova for a place in the semi-finals.

"I feel so happy on the court — I feel it’s my place.

"I feel, I wouldn’t say different (from before), but I enjoy it much more, and I’ve found the passion again."

Henin, who entered the tournament as a wildcard, won a tough battle against her 20-year-old rival in yet another long contest — the 27-year-old’s third marathon in a row, and admitted the matches were beginning to take their toll.

"My left leg (which has been strapped for the past two matches) is quite sore," said Henin, playing only her second tournament since coming out of retirement.

"I sprained my ankle also when I fell down. I hope it’s going to be okay tomorrow.

"So physically it hasn’t been easy in the last few days, but like I said, I didn’t play tennis for two years, so I probably have to spend more time on the court.

"But it’s the kind of match that gives you confidence, of course, when you have to fight, that’s probably what I need.

"I couldn’t think I could be at this level at this time of the year, after almost two years off."

Henin and Wickmayer played some superb tennis over two-and-a-quarter hours on the Rod Laver Arena but it was the old stager who had the composure when it was needed at the end of the first and third sets.

She took control of the first set tiebreak to gain the early advantage, then attacked Wickmayer at the end of the third set, breaking her opponent and claiming the match.

Henin conceded she had dreamed of winning the 2010 Australian Open, emulating Kim Clijsters’ feat of winning the US Open on her return.

But she said she tried to keep her emotions in check.

"I don’t go that far, I just go step by step," she said.

"It’s probably the right attitude to have, just to be focused on this moment right now.

"That’s what I’ve done since I arrived in Australia, and I think it worked pretty good.

"Of course, I have dreams — I’ll try to go as far as possible.

"If it’s till the end, it would be amazing. But it’s still too early to talk about that."

Henin must now get past Petrova following the in-form Russian’s 6-3, 3-6. 6-2 win over third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"I’ve played her recently already twice, so I really know what she’s playing," said Petrova, who lost to Henin at an exhibition tournament in December and in the first round of the Brisbane International.

"I know what to expect. I know what kind of balls are going to be coming at me, so it’s all fresh in the memory, so it’s going to be maybe even easier maybe for me to play her because it’s like it’s so fresh in my mind."