Henin beats Petrova to reach Aussie Open semifinals in her Grand Slam comeback

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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MELBOURNE, Australia - Former No. 1-ranked Justine Henin reached the semifinals in her Grand Slam comeback, beating Nadia Petrova 7-6 (3), 7-5 Tuesday 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-seeded 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.
"I didn't want to go to the tiebreaker. I wanted to close out the match."
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 reached the Brisbane final, where she lost in three sets to fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. It was Clijsters' win at the U.S. Open last September, in the third tournament of a comeback from two years in retirement, which inspired seven-time Grand Slam winner Henin to return to the tour.
Now she's two wins from emulating Clijsters' triumphant Grand Slam comeback.
Henin ended a highly successful run in Melbourne for Petrova, who ousted two reigning major champions on her way to the quarters: Clijsters in the third round; and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth.
Henin retired suddenly in May 2008 while holding the No. 1 ranking and has not played at a major since losing in the quarter-finals to eventual champion Maria Sharapova at the 2008 Australian Open. Henin won the title here in 2004 and reached the final in 2006, when she retired due to stomach problems against Amelie Mauresmo of France.
Her ability to lift her intensity on key points showed against Petrova, who has never gone past the semifinals at a major.
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 was trailing 0-3 when she started to climb back. She won the next four games to take a 4-3 lead.
The next four games went on serve to give Henin a 6-5 lead.
Belgian flags waved from the stands and Henin walked out to the baseline pumping her fist, swinging a practice backhand and jogging in place, determined to break Petrova's serve. And she did, to a standing ovation from the crowd.
During the match, Royal Australian Air Force fighter jets roared overhead, canons exploded and helicopters whirred past, all part of the celebrations for Australia Day.
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 on 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 in the 65-minute match.
The main story lines after Monday's play: Federer will play Nikolay Davydenko; and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will meet 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.
Serena and Venus Williams are each a win away of setting up a sisters semifinal.
Venus Williams advanced with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Francesca Schiavone and will play No. 16 Li Na, who ousted U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3. Li joined 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie to give China two players in the quarter-finals of one Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
Li beat Venus in the 2008 Beijing Olympics quarter-finals, their only previous meeting.
Serena, who has won the Australian title each odd-numbered year since beating Venus for the 2003 championship, will play seventh-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who won the last 10 games to beat No. 9 Vera Zvonareva of Russia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
On the men's side, No. 10 Tsonga had to go five sets for the first time in a career that has spanned 11 Grand Slam events to edge Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (6), 9-7.
Djokovic had a 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 win over Poland's Lukasz Kubot, and Davydenko held off No. 9 Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, dropping a set for the first time in the tournament. Davydenko is on 13-match winning streak, including victories over both Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, the defending Australian champion, takes on No. 5 Andy Murray on Tuesday night.

Organizations: Australian Open, U.S. Open, Brisbane International

Geographic location: MELBOURNE, Australia, Melbourne Park France Wimbledon China Belarus Poland

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