Clijsters wins Brisbane thriller

First blood to Kim Clijsters as she overpowers fellow countrywoman Henin.

    Round one to Clijsters in the battle of the comeback queens [GALLO/GETTY]
    Kim Clijsters hung on to win a momentum-swinging all-Belgian final at the Brisbane International in Australia, in a vintage finish to Justine Henin's tennis tour comeback.

    Clijsters, only five tournaments into her own comeback which has already netted the US Open title, saved two match points and then wasted three before winning 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (6) over the seven-time Grand Slam winner.

    Clijsters started strongly and led by a set and 4-1 before Henin staged a dramatic rally.

    Henin, playing in the top tier for the first time since she quit while holding the No1 ranking in May 2008, won eight of the next nine games to take a 3-0 lead in the third.

    Clijsters rallied to 3-3, then gave up a break and gave Henin match points in the 10th game.

    She held her nerve and, 15 minutes later, held her arms in the air, celebrating what she thought was a championship-winning backhand down the line in the tiebreaker when the umpire overruled.

    Henin got back to 6-6 in the tiebreaker but then double-faulted to give Clijsters a fourth match point. She made no mistake this time, with a forehand that Henin couldn't get.

    Great start

    "Huh, what a match!'' Clijsters told the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena after the game on Saturday.

    "I think we set the bar pretty high for ourselves for the rest of the year.

    "It's a great tournament to start the year with. I couldn't be happier with myself.''

    Top-seeded Clijsters closed Henin's lead in career head-to-heads to 12-11, ending the three-match winning streak that Henin had in 2006 - maintaining a sequence in which no player won more than three straight.

    Clijsters took more than two years off the tour and got married to US basketballer Brian Lynch and had a daughter, Jada, in February 2008.

    She was only three tournaments into a comeback when she won the US Open
    in September and became the first mother to win a major since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.

    Clijster's daughter and husband were in the crowd on Saturday, when she donated her tournament winnings to Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital, which she had visited earlier in the week.

    Comeback trail

    Henin, who beat second-seeded Nadia Petrova in her opening match and third-seeded Ana Ivanovic in her semi-final, joked that she didn't know what to do after a match.

    "I forgot how to make a speech!'' she said, laughing.

    "It's just great to be back. I want to congratulate Kim. It was a great fight. I really enjoyed my time out here tonight.

    "I couldn't expect more. It was a dream"

    Justine Henin

    "I couldn't expect more. It was a dream.''

    Henin was playing on a wild card in Brisbane and has the same status next week for the Sydney International, where she could take on top-ranked Serena Williams in the second round if she wins her opening match.

    Clijsters will go straight to Melbourne to fine tune for the Australian Open, which starts January 18.

    Men's top seed Andy Roddick has a final to play Sunday against defending champion Radek Stepanek before he heads to Melbourne.



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