Henin has to fend off foes

MELBOURNE - World number one Justine Henin enters the Australian Open today high on confidence and in the form of her life but must fend off a strong field of challengers to claim her seventh Grand Slam.

MELBOURNE - World number one Justine Henin enters the Australian Open today high on confidence and in the form of her life but must fend off a strong field of challengers to claim her seventh Grand Slam.

Among those gunning for the Belgian is defending champion Serena Williams, looking fitter and sharper than the player who stunned the tennis world by claiming the title last year after a career-threatening injury layoff.

Russian Maria Sharapova, last year's beaten finalist, has also warned opponents to write her off at their peril, while compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova is aching to end a Grand Slam drought stretching more than three years.

Serena's sister Venus is another tour veteran considered with a chance of lifting the trophy, combining the experience of a six-time Grand Slam winner with the hunger to win her maiden Australian Open title.

A number of rising stars will also be in contention, including the Serbian pair Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, both looking to build on outstanding performances in 2007 that saw them break into the top five.

France's Amelie Mauresmo took her career to a new level when she won here in 2006 and will be hoping Melbourne Park can provide her with the inspiration to turn around last year's injury-plagued season, when her ranking slipped to 18.

But Henin, who won here in 2004 and controversially walked off centre court midway through the 2006 final against Mauresmo with a stomach complaint, remains the player to beat.

The Belgian finished 2007 with 10 titles, including the US and French Opens.

In the process she became the first woman to earn more than $5 million prize money in one season; the first in 10 years, since Martina Hingis, to win 10 titles in a season; and the first in 18 years, since Steffi Graf, to remain unbeaten post-Wimbledon. - Sapa-AFP

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