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Clijsters, Henin brighten up dreary day

Published:Tuesday | January 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):

With one former women's No. 1 making an early exit and the current one not playing until today, it was just as well that Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin came back to give the Australian Open some first-day lustre on a rainy, dreary day at Melbourne Park.

Former top-ranked Maria Sharapova was a surprise 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4 loser yesterday to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.

"I could be disappointed or I could just take it as it is and just go back on the court and just keep working," Sharapova said. "I choose option two. A bad day's not going to stop me from doing what I love. I'll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, so you watch."

Sharapova rallied from 5-2 down in the deciding set, holding serve and then breaking Kirilenko to stay in the match. She dropped her own serve after giving Kirilenko double match point.

"It's never easy. I'm good friends with Maria," Kirilenko said, "but I tried my best to win today - I came here quite confident."

Making a return

US Open champion Clijsters, also a former No. 1 and making a return to the Australian Open in her sixth tournament back from retirement, easily won her first-round match 6-0, 6-4 over Canadian qualifier Valerie Tetreault.

Later yesterday, another former No. 1 also on the comeback trail, seven-time Grand Slam singles winner Justine Henin, advanced with a 6-4, 6-3 win over fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. Henin lost to Clijsters in the Brisbane International final 10 days ago in her return to the tour.

Top-seeded Serena Williams starts her title defence today against Urszula Radwanksa of Poland.

Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, the defending men's champion, beat Australia's Peter Luczak 7-6 (0), 6-1, 6-4.

The Spanish left-hander didn't find his rhythm until the latter part of the first set against Luczak, dominating the tie-breaker and much of the remainder of the match.

"I'm always happy to win the first round of a Grand Slam," Nadal said. "Peter was playing really well in the first set but he made three errors in the tiebreak that helped me. I knew it was going to be a tough match."

Steady rain first delayed the start of play on outside courts, then forced several suspensions and more than a dozen postponements.