Australian Open

Henin back in semifinals

Top-seeded and defending champion Serena Williams made a point in ousting Sam Stosur in straight sets. Top-seeded and defending champion Serena Williams made a point in ousting Sam Stosur in straight sets. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)
By John Pye
Associated Press / January 26, 2010

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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 (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, next will play Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, who beat Russia’s Maria Kirilenko, 6-1, 6-3, to equal her Chinese record for the best run at a major.

Henin 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.

“It was difficult to find the energy today,’’ 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 at the Brisbane International in her first match back on tour Jan. 4 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’s win at the US Open in September, in the third tournament of a comeback from two years in retirement, that inspired seven-time Grand Slam winner Henin to return to the tour.

Petrova helped unblock Henin’s path to the semifinals by ousting two reigning major champions on her way to the quarterfinals: Clijsters in the third round, and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth.

Kirilenko had taken out big names in her section, too, starting with her 3-hour 21-minute first-round win over 2008 champion Maria Sharapova and her fourth-round victory against last year’s finalist Dinara Safina, who retired because of a back problem.

Henin has not played at a major since losing to Sharapova here in 2008.

In matches early yesterday, Roger Federer and Serena Williams ended local hopes of breaking a three-decade drought at this event.

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.

The main story lines after yesterday’s play: Federer will play Nikolay Davydenko, and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals.

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 US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-3.

Serena, who has won the Australian title each odd-numbered year since beating Venus for the 2003 championship, will play seventh-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who beat No. 9 Vera Zvonareva, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.