Defeats and injuries barely figured in Justine Henin's vocabulary last year, but this week's Dubai Championships will give the world No 1 a chance to rebuild both her confidence and her fitness following her quarter-final drubbing by Maria Sharapova at last month's Australian Open.
Henin, who has a bye in the first round, admitted yesterday that she should not have played in Melbourne after the recurrence of a knee injury. After her defeat to Sharapova, which ended a 33-match winning run dating back to Wimbledon in July, Henin was forced to rest following a cortisone injection in her right knee.
"There were a lot of factors involved in what happened in Australia," Henin said. "Sharapova was certainly the better player on the day, but I probably didn't have enough time in December to come down after everything that happened in 2007. I was quite tired and I shouldn't have played in Australia because of my knee. It was a big mistake because it took me a few weeks to recover. I was feeling the injury a bit when I left for Australia, but you always think that it's going to be better. Now my knee is much better after the injection and I can play without pain, but I had to stop for three weeks."
The 25-year-old Belgian has played once since Melbourne and had double reason to celebrate. Not only did she win in her first tour appearance in her home country for five years, but it also marked the final phase in her reconciliation with her family. The Antwerp final was the first occasion on which she has been watched by her father since she cut herself off from her relatives – for reasons never explained publicly – several years ago.
Ana Ivanovic, the world No 2 due to play her first match tomorrow, said she may withdraw after suffering a foot injury last week.
Elena Dementieva, the No 8 seed, was the most significant winner in yesterday's opening contests, beating Patty Schnyder in straight sets.