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Henin targets more effective first serves

BRUSSELS -- Just 16 months away from tennis was enough for Justine Henin.

She'll return in January ahead of the Australian Open, complete with a new serve in her quest for a Wimbledon title. It's the only Grand Slam that Henin didn't win in a 10-year career that produced nearly $20 million in earnings.

Henin's goal is to achieve 70-percent success on her first serves. That improvement, along with her daunting whip backhand, will have opponents scrambling.

"We said that perhaps, one day, we will get there," Henin said Wednesday at a news conference, a day after announcing her comeback. "I am not [tall], so technically it has to be perfect."

At 5 feet, 6 inches, accuracy and consistency on her first serve had been a problem. With more than three months before her first competitive match, she has time to retool her serve.

"Justine is convinced we can reconstruct her serve," coach Carlos Rodriguez said. "We have time."

A powerful serve is especially essential to dominate on the grass of Wimbledon, and it will complement the rest of her solid game.

"The balance between things is what makes Justine what she is -- power, explosiveness, endurance, coordination, intuitiveness," Rodriguez said.

That balance also applies to her personal life. Henin said the yearlong break has given her more confidence to become a leader and provided a broader outlook on life after serving as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

On the comeback trail, the former No. 1 player will clash again with fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open this month just three tournaments into her comeback after more than two years away.

"It is a source of inspiration and motivation," Henin said. "I have come to realize that I would not have been this strong if she had not been there at the time."

Henin defeated Clijsters to win three of her first four Grand Slam titles in 2003-2004.

"Justine's comeback is extremely good news for women's tennis, but even better for Belgium in general," Clijsters said in a statement.

Henin wants to play at least until the 2012 London Olympics. By then, she hopes to have won Wimbledon -- the only Grand Slam title missing on her resume of four French Open titles, two U.S. Opens and one Australian Open championship.

She won singles gold at the 2004 Athens Games.

Henin expects to play exhibition tournaments in Charleroi, Belgium, and Dubai to hone her skills ahead of a competitive return at the Australian Open.

Sydney tournament organizers are hoping Henin will play there before the season-opening Grand Slam. Her announced return to Melbourne Park was warmly greeted by Australian Open officials.

"Any time you can welcome a past champion on a comeback trail it's an opportunity you would never want to miss," tournament director Craig Tiley said. "We would love Justine to be a part of the Australian Open again."