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Rejuvenated Henin first match at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia - Justine Henin's new, philosophical outlook on life and tennis comes with a few fringe benefits. She's dining out more, for one thing.

The relentless intensity that characterized the Belgian as she won seven Grand Slam singles titles before retiring 20 months ago has given way to a more self-assured, open manner in her second coming to the game.

"I'm a little less superstitious about the past," Henin said after her 6-4, 6-3 win over fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the first round of the Australian Open yesterday. "I've tested a different restaurant every day since I've arrived - that never happened in the past.

"I feel like I've evolved," she added, laughing, "and there are things that don't have a role in success or failure."

Henin is still driven by a challenge, and that's what brought her back to Melbourne Park for her first major since a quarterfinal loss to Maria Sharapova at the 2008 Australian Open.

Unranked and playing as a wild-card entry, Henin will next play fifth-seeded Elena Dementieva.

A win over Dementieva could put her on course for a quarterfinal against fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, whose win at the U.S. Open last September in only her third tournament out of retirement inspired Henin's comeback.

Clijsters, who beat Henin in the final of a tournament at Brisbane on Jan. 9, won her first-round match, 6-0, 6-4, over Canadian Valerie Tetreault.

Sharapova, the last person to beat Henin at a major, played her first match here since winning the 2008 title, and recorded her earliest exit at a major in seven years when she lost, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko. Sharapova, seeded 14th, was unable to defend her title last year after undergoing shoulder surgery that kept her off the tour for 10 months.

Dinara Safina, who lost last year's final to Serena Williams, and No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova, the reigning French Open champion, advanced in straight sets.

On a gray, rainy day in Melbourne, only 26 of the 64 scheduled matches were completed - another 12 matches started but were suspended.

In men's matches, defending champion Rafael Nadal was among the last to finish, coming back from a break down in the first set to beat Australia's Peter Luczak, 7-6 (0), 6-1, 6-4.

Fourth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, the reigning U.S. Open champion, ignored the pain of a sore wrist and a disagreement with the umpire in a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over Michael Russell.

Ivo Karlovic ousted No. 13 Radek Stepanek, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. No. 5 Andy Murray and No. 7 Andy Roddick advanced in straight sets.

New York Sports