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Thu 28 Feb 2008 03:00 AM

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Scare for Henin at Dubai Open

But World No. 1 hits accelerator to produce most encouraging performance of year.

Justine Henin suffered an opening match scare for the second successive year as she sought to maintain an unbeaten record by winning her fifth title in a row at the Dubai Open.

The world number one from Belgium had to save two points to avoid going a break down in the final set against Katarina Srebotnik before beating the Slovenian qualifier 7-5, 6-7 (6/8) 6-3.

Last year Henin was within a point of trailing 1-4 in the final set against Tamira Paszek, an Austrian then aged only 16, but her survival kick-started a year in which she won ten titles.

Then Henin was returning to competition after a marital break-up. Now she is coming back after a knee injury and energy-sapping family reunions.

Srebotnik often hit the ball very hard and, as the chance of victory emerged, with increasing consistency too, recovering from a mini-break down in the tie-break to force a decider.

But just when she needed it, Henin hit the accelerator, coming to the net more, applying pressure from the baseline with angles and variations of spin, and ending the match with several games of colourful, high-quality attack.

What had been in danger of becoming a disaster concluded with perhaps her most encouraging performance of the year so far.

Certainly Henin thought so. "I only recovered now from what happened to me in 2007," she said. "Mentally and emotionally I was pretty tired in Australia. Today I really enjoyed being out there, even if I wasn't perfect.

"I was glad I had the third set to find my rhythm. It was the first set this season in which I've enjoyed my game. I was moving forward, going into the net, serving better, returning better.

"I've worked harder in the last few days than I normally would before this tournament. With my knee injury I couldn't do a lot in the last few weeks and I arrived without having had the best preparation.

"Carlos (Rodriguez, coach) wanted me to work hard and it's good for my confidence that I was out on the court tonight for a long time".

Her three-hour contest will be followed by a third round against Francesca Schiavone, the Italian number one.

Earlier world number four Jelena Jankovic spent most of a two-hour 14-minute match trailing before surviving narrowly against Sania Mirza.

The Serbian beat the Indian 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 but there were moments when it seemed the unseeded Mirza, who led 3-1 in the final set and then had three points for 5-3, would win.

The 21-year-old Mumbai-based player from Hyderabad often swung her better-known opponent about with early, flat-hit drives, and also hit a high ratio of clean winners. But just when it seemed she had Jankovic flagging errors crept into her game.

Nevertheless Mirza provided many rousing moments with her forthright style, bringing plenty of noise from the large expatriate crowd and contributing a great deal to the entertainment.

Once Jankovic spoke to some of them as though she were trying to quieten them down.

"They were making a sudden noise during the rallies, which was disturbing, and I asked them to wait until the end of the rallies to do it," she said. "But they didn't."

Jankovic paid tribute to the exciting ability of Mirza to attack but admitted, when questioned, that she had not been feeling at her best and was disappointed with her movement.

Jankovic next plays Anna Chakvetadze, the sixth-seeded Russian, who survived an even longer contest, lasting more than three hours, and came back from a set and 1-4 down to beat her fellow Muscovite, Dinara Safina, by 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.

Another Russian, the second-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, won impressively, by 6-1, 6-2 against Lucie Safarova, the world number 40 from the Czech republic.

Her next opponent is Amelie Mauresmo, the former world number one from France, who beat Akiko Morigami of Japan, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, and now has a chance of winning three matches in a row for the first time since Wimbledon, eight months ago.

Another Serbian, the third-seeded Ana Ivanovic, showed that she had recovered with encouraging speed from the ankle injury which caused her retirement from last week's Qatar Open, winning 6-4, 6-0 against Nicole Vaidisova, the world number 14 from the Czech Republic.

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