Weekly Slice: Henin primed for immediate impact

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First serve

She smiles a little more often these days and is rarely parted from new companion Deuce, a fluffy and frivolous 2-year-old dog, but don't expect Justine Henin's newfound public warmth to extend to the tennis court.

As she begins her much-anticipated comeback, the former world No. 1's persona is somewhat different from that of the tortured and stressed figure who quit the game 19 months ago.

But any foe hoping that Henin's decision to peel back some of the layers of secrecy will result in a lesser degree of on-court ruthlessness will be disappointed. The Belgian knows only one way to play - to try to grind her opponent into the dirt. She is not coming back onto the circuit because she hopes she can recapture old glories but because she knows she can.

Women's tennis has not made any great strides in her absence, the start of which hit the tennis world like a thunderbolt just days before the 2008 French Open. Indeed, the magnificent achievement of Henin's fellow countrywoman Kim Clijsters in winning her comeback Slam at the U.S. Open made it clear that major trophies are very much up for grabs.

With a few personal demons ironed out thanks to an extended break, Henin looks ready to make an immediate impact. The Australian Open is the first item on her checklist, and while logic would suggest it is unlikely she can go all the way, it is an exercise in foolishness to ever write off this 5-foot-4 warrior.

Drop shot

Organizers of the ASB Classic women's event in Auckland evacuated the stadium after an unattended bag was found on the premises, causing a significant delay in play. The measure was taken following protests against Israeli player Shahar Peer, who was urged to withdraw from the event by protest group Global Peace and Justice - which opposes Israel's political stance toward Palestine.

Clean winner

Andy Roddick took the misplacement of his luggage en route to Australia in good spirits this week. When a local Lacoste store sent over a range of replacement clothes for Roddick to wear, the world No. 7 donned the smallest and tightest item in the collection and immediately posed for a comedic Twitter photo.

Use your frequent-flyer miles

Sure, Roger and Rafa are off doing their Doha thing, but there'll be plenty of chances to see them square off over the next few months. The lovely city of Brisbane is this week's choice, as it makes a welcome return to the tennis calendar. A women's draw featuring the return of Clijsters and Queen Justine, plus a competitive men's field, makes this well worth a look.

This week's predictions

Brisbane International: Radek Stepanek

Qatar Exxon Mobil Open, Doha: Nikolay Davydenko

Aircel Open, Chennai: Stanislas Wawrinka

Brisbane International: Justine Henin

ASB Classic, Auckland: Aravane Rezai

Hopman Cup, Perth: Australia (Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur)

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