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Henin close to ultimate comeback

MELBOURNE, Australia — Former No. 1-ranked Justine Henin reached the semifinals in her Grand Slam comeback, beating Nadia Petrova 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 today to take out the last seeded player in her half of the Australian Open draw.

Henin, unranked and playing on a wild-card entry at Melbourne Park, went down a break in the second set before finding the range with her powerful groundstrokes and winning seven of the next nine games to finish off No. 19 seed Petrova.

"I just went for it with my heart. Finally I could make it, and I'm very happy," Henin said. "At the end I played much more aggressive tennis."

The 27-year-old Belgian beat Petrova on Jan. 4 at the Brisbane International in her first match back on tour after almost 20 months in retirement.

Henin next faces Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, who beat Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-3.

Petrova had ousted two reigning major champions: U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters in the third round; and French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth.

After being forced to a tiebreaker in the first set, Henin raced to a 6-1 lead and clinched it two points later, with one of her classic backhand winners.

In the second set, Henin trailed 0-3 when she started to climb back.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams ended local hopes of breaking a three-decade drought at the Australian Open on Monday, the eve of the national holiday.

Federer beat former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 — his 15th straight win over the Australian — and defending champion Williams defeated No. 13 Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-2 in back-to-back fourth-round matches at Rod Laver Arena.

"It's important when you're playing a local girl to not let the crowd get too involved or else they'll kill you," said Williams, who only conceded seven points on her serve.

The main storylines after Monday's play: Federer will play Nikolay Davydenko; and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will meet 2008 runnerup Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals.

Serena and Venus Williams are each a win away of setting up a sisters semifinal.

Serena, who has won the Australian title each odd-numbered year since beating Venus for the 2003 crown, next plays No. 7 Victoria Azarenka, who won the last 10 games to beat No. 9 Vera Zvonareva 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. Venus faces No. 16 Li Na,

On the men's side, No. 10 Tsonga went five sets for the first time in a career that has spanned 11 Grand Slam events to edge Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (6-8), 9-7.

Djokovic had a 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 win over Lukasz Kubot, and Davydenko held off No. 9 Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, dropping a set for the first time in the tournament.

Nadal, the defending champion, takes on No. 5 Andy Murray today.

Fast facts

Today on TV

3 p.m. (taped), ESPN2; 7, Tennis Channel; 9, ESPN2

Henin close to ultimate comeback 01/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2010 11:57pm]
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