Henin, Safina advance at Australian Open
MELBOURNE, Australia – Justine Henin staged another memorable comeback Friday to advance in her first Grand Slam out of retirement, beating No. 27 Alisa Kleybanova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the third round of the Australian Open.
Facing two break points at 1-3 in the second set, it seemed as if Henin’s dramatic win over Olympic gold medalist and fifth-ranked Elena Dementieva on Wednesday had sapped too much energy. After all, it was only the seventh match for the seven-time Grand Slam winner since she returned from 20 months off the tour.
But Henin managed to hold that game, hitting the lines with her groundstrokes instead of just missing them, and in the next game converted her first break-point chance against Kleybanova. As soon Henin found her range, the match was as good as over.
“I kind of survived a little bit today,” Henin said. “It’s always good to win this kind of match because I came back from nowhere.
“It was so difficult for me after last match. Physically I suffered a little bit in the last two days, but finally I did it. I’m very happy that I have another chance to get better in the next round.”
Former No. 1-ranked Andy Roddick was challenged all the way in a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Feliciano Lopez. He next will play 2007 runner-up Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who was backed by a noisy Chilean contingent in stifling conditions on Showcourt 2 as he beat Kazakhstan’s Evgeny Korolev 6-7 (5), 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Roddick broke Lopez in the third game of the second set and the ninth of the third set, serving out at love both times.
“Right now I’m just relieved to be through,” said Roddick, who shanked a shot on his first match point.
Henin, unranked and playing on a wild-card entry, had a momentary lapse in the deciding set when Kleybanova broke her serve, but otherwise dominated the last 10 games.
Only two nights earlier, Henin had to save set points to finish off Dementieva in a tiebreaker, drawing on the experience of losing in similar circumstances to Kim Clijsters after holding match points in the Brisbane International final on Jan. 9.
That was Henin’s first tournament since she quit while holding the No. 1 ranking in May 2008. In what is shaping as the Belgian quarter, Henin now must beat Yanina Wickmayer to have a chance at a quarterfinal against Kim Clijsters.
Wickmayer, who is ranked No. 16 but unseeded because she was under a suspension – since overturned – for breaching the World Anti-Doping Agency’s “whereabouts rule” when direct entries closed for the Australian Open – advanced 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3 over Sara Errani.
Second-seeded Dinara Safina had an easier third-round match, advancing with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Britain’s Elena Baltacha in her first match on Rod Laver Arena since her lopsided loss to Serena Williams in last year’s final.
Safina will have a more difficult assignment next round against fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko, who beat Italian Roberta Vinci 7-5, 7-6 (4). Kirilenko had an upset win over 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in the opening round.
“I’m happy to be back here in Rod Laver, I didn’t have too many good memories from last year so I turned it around and tried to forget the bad memories,” said Safina, focusing on the positives. “I had some unbelievable matches here in Rod Laver: dramas, fighting, running.”
Former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic was upset 6-2, 6-3 by No. 31 Alona Bondarenko.
Clijsters, inspired Henin’s return to the tour by winning the U.S. Open last September in her third tournament back from retirement, was playing Nadia Petrova in a night match.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal also had a night match against Philipp Kohlschreiber on Rod Laver Arena.
Roger Federer, the king of tennis, met Britain’s Prince William on the same court the previous evening. After Federer dispatched Victor Hanescu 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in 99 minutes Thursday, on-court interviewer Jim Courier invited the top-ranked Swiss star to acknowledge the rare visit to Melbourne by a high-ranking British royal.
“Your Royal Highness, welcome to the world of tennis,” Federer said. “Thanks for coming.”
Prince William duly blushed and waved. Federer is no stranger to royalty, having collected the Wimbledon trophy six times on London’s grass courts among his record 15 Grand Slam titles. But this was his first meeting with William, second in line to the British throne.
Prince William also met women’s champion Serena Williams, who defeated Czech Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-1 to set up a third-round match against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro. Navarro ousted Venus Williams in the second round last year.
Venus has already improved on that, defeating Sybille Bammer 6-2, 7-5.
Serena planned to speak to Venus about combatting Suarez Navarro.
“I would hate to see it become a habit for her, taking out a sister this time every year,” Serena said.