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BlinX
May 20th, 2004, 03:06 AM
Henin-Hardenne confirms she will defend French Open title
May 18, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- World No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne will play in the French Open after all. Just don't call her the favorite to win it.

The world's No. 1 player said Tuesday she would defend her title at Roland Garros even though she hasn't fully recovered from a viral infection.

"It is evident that I am still not at 100 percent, but, in any case, I feel ready," she said. "I leave for Paris with one clear objective. That is to win my first match."

The French Open starts Monday, and the Belgian has been trying to get in top shape over the last month.

In mid-April, she came down with a virus similar to energy-sapping glandular fever and hasn't played a competitive match since then. She has practiced at her home in the southern Belgian town of Wepion with fitness trainer Pat Etcheberry.

His punishing drills provided the breakthrough. Last week, she rated her chances of participating in the French Open at 60 percent.

"The arrival of Pat allowed me to test myself," she said. "When I saw I could handle what he made me do, it gave me confidence."

But she isn't sure whether she can win the whole thing.

"You cannot consider me the big favorite for this tournament," she said. "My main objective is to have fun out there."

Henin-Hardenne has won four titles this year, including her first Australian Open. She is 25-2 this season and comfortably leads the rankings with 6,913 points, ahead of fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters with 5,686. Since Clijsters is also out injured, Henin-Hardenne will stay No. 1 for several more weeks, regardless of her health problems.

With two clay-court titles in as many weeks, Amelie Mauresmo heads home to the French Open with a good chance to win.

Last year, Henin-Hardenne beat Clijsters in Paris for her first Grand Slam title. She has added the U.S. and Australian Open titles since.

Until getting sick, Henin-Hardenne was dominant on the tour.

She felt weak and dizzy after losing a semifinal at Amelia Island, Fla., last month and canceled her tour commitments to treat the illness at home.

"Physically, I have gone through difficult weeks. And it taught me to put things in perspective," she said.


AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2004, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

SOURCE: http://www.sportsline.com/tennis/story/7339415





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