Justine Henin of Belgium reacts after losing her match to Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne Jan 21, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
MELBOURNE - Ailing seven-time grand slam winner Justine Henin was denied another Australian Open fairytale when she was knocked out in the third round by Svetlana Kuznetsova on Friday.
The Belgian enjoyed a dream run to the final last year after a 20-month retirement, but her second comeback at Melbourne Park after a six-month layoff yielded only three painful matches and doubts about her recovery from a troublesome elbow injury.
"I know I'm not 100 percent. I knew it before walking on the court," said Henin, runner-up to Serena Williams last year, after losing 6-4 7-6 to Kuznetsova.
"That's why I say there are no excuses. I decided to play not being 100 percent.
"It's been difficult in the last three days on my elbow and I just did everything that I could that it will be okay, but it wasn't enough."
The 2004 champion Henin, who damaged tendons in her elbow at Wimbledon, had needed extended practice to warm her arm up before each match and appeared a shadow of the nerveless net-rusher that shocked the field last year.
She sprayed 41 unforced errors against two-time grand slam champion Kuznetsova and struggled with her serve throughout.
Despite appearing down and out, she fought back gamely in the second set, breaking back twice to take an increasingly nervous Kuznetsova into a tiebreak.
Although saving three match points, the first with a courageous return down the line, she slapped a forehand into the tramlines on the fourth to lose the tiebreak 10-8 and give a timely shot of confidence to a relieved Kuznetsova.
"I'm really pleased with way I played today, especially in the first set," said the Russian, whose season was cut short last year by a shoulder injury.
"After that it's tennis, you get nerves, I wanted to win so much and it was a great atmosphere. Match-by-match, I'm getting better and better, it's a real pleasure for me to play on this court today."
Kuznetsova, seeded 23rd here after previously holding the world's number two ranking, will next play French Open champion Francesca Schiavone as she bids to return to the pinnacle of the women's game.