Justine Henin moved within six sets of returning to Grand Slam glory Sunday at the Australian Open. The unseeded Henin fought off a tough test from countrywoman Yanina Wickmayer 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3 to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2008 Australian Open.
“Well, it wasn’t that easy,” said Henin after her second three-set win. “Of course, the first set asked me (for) a lot of energy and a lot of intensity. Then the beginning of the second set, I slow down a little bit. She didn’t give me a lot of points at that time. She played very good tennis. I got the opportunity to start (the third set) pretty well, and that’s what I did.”
The 20-year-old Wickmayer is the new face of Belgian tennis following her surprise US Open semifinal run last September. But despite missing 18 months of the tour, it was Henin showing that she’s still the boss.
“The way I play, more aggressive, coming to the net, I think my game at the net is just better than it was before,” Henin said. “I just need to be brave enough to do it. That’s what I did on the important points today.”
Up next for Henin is 19th-seeded Nadia Petrova, who continued her strong play upsetting No. 3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. Petrova, a stunning victor over Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-1 on Friday, had a tougher time with her Russian compatriot, but won the last six games of the match to win.
“Today was similar,” Petrova said. “I felt like, you know, my motivation, my concentration was on the same level. But today there were a little more unforced errors than against Kim. But I fought hard. I chased every single ball possible.”
It’s Petrova’s second appearance in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
2009 finalist Dinara Safina was the shock result of the day. The No. 2 seed retired during her match with fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko due to an ongoing back injury while trailing 5-4 in the first set.
“My back again,” Safina said of same injury that plagued her much of last year. “It suddenly hit me. It was getting worse and worse. I have no idea really how it could happen. It’s really, really terrible.
“Today I warm up,” she added. “Yesterday I had treatment. Today I warm up, it was fine. I was cooling down, and I start to feel a little more pain. Suddenly I played a long game at 3-2. I won the game. I turned to my coach. I said, I cannot move anymore.”
Safina’s withdrawal puts Kirilenko into her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Also today, Zheng Jie became the first Chinese woman to reach the Australian Open quarterfinal. Jie, a former semifinalist at Wimbledon, beat Alona Bondarenko in straight sets.
Tomorrow, round of 16 play wraps up Monday with Serena Williams vs. Sam Stosur, Venus Williams vs. Francesca Schiavone, Vera Zvonareva vs. Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki vs. Na Li.
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