Brisbane, Australia (Sports Network) - Nearly two years removed from competitive tennis, Justine Henin battled but came up short in a two-hour-plus marathon against top-seeded Kim Clijsters, as the 26-year-old top seed pulled out a thrilling three-set victory in the championship bout at the Brisbane International.
Clijsters' 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) victory took two hours, 24 minutes and featured Henin playing on the defensive, yet staving off 10-of-16 break point changes against her in forcing a third-set tie break.
The all-Belgian final was a "welcome back" for the wild card Henin, a seven- time major winner, who was playing her first professional tennis event in 20 months after abruptly retiring as the world's top-ranked player in May 2008.
"I'm physically exhausted, but I can't be disappointed," Henin said. "I am proud of what I did on the court today. It was a bit of drama from beginning to end but at the end she played the important points better than I did. I had a great time here. I have a lot of respect for Kim. She is a great player."
It also marked another point in the comeback of Clijsters, who retired from tennis and was off the WTA Tour for two years before returning last season and capturing the U.S. Open in only her third event back. She celebrated a title for the 36th time with her victory on Saturday in Australia.
"The level was so high and we were both competing our best. It's a good match when you're both playing well - that's what it's all about," Clijsters. "I feel pretty good. I don't have any serious injuries or anything, and now I have the luxury of a few days off to recover."
The season-opening event provided a welcome precursor for the tour, highlighting two of its most dominant players only several years back. Clijsters struggled on her first serve in the first set, but took 11-of-13 points on her second serve and took advantage of five Henin double faults to move a set ahead.
Henin tightened up in the second set and captured all three of her break chances to force the third and deciding set, which came down to a tight tie break won by Clijsters.
Henin and Clijsters had split 20 career meetings on the WTA Tour, and Saturday's final was another evenly-played bout. Their last tussle before Saturday came in the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2006, with Henin getting the better of Clijsters before going on to lose to Amelie Mauresmo in the final.
Clijsters pocketed $37,000 in advance of the 2010 Australian Open, which will start January 18 in Melbourne.