Commentary

Clijsters' savage beating inexplicable

Updated: January 22, 2010, 11:49 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Even Kim Clijsters could not fully unscramble her head-spinning, lopsided loss.

The savage beating she took Friday only capped an already-dramatic day for the top Americans and Belgians Down Under.

Earlier in the day, Andy Roddick and John Isner battled their way to thrilling four-set wins, while Clijsters' compatriot, Justine Henin, dug deep to survive.

But the manner in which Clijsters, the comeback queen supreme following her heroics at the U.S. Open, fell to unpredictable Russian Nadia Petrova in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday beggared belief.

Petrova, once a Grand Slam contender herself, crushed a puzzled and frazzled Clijsters 6-0, 6-1 in 52 minutes in front of a stunned crowd at the secondary Hisense Arena.

"When Kim doesn't have control, she can be pretty bad, but I've never seen it that bad through an entire match," said ESPN analyst Pam Shriver. "She can be streaky but usually gets it together at some point. On the other side, Petrova usually has a period where she can lose it for a while. Petrova capitalized the entire time without a hiccup and Kim never got it together."

The tournament is indeed heating up nicely, and it had little to do with temperatures topping 95 degrees.

"This is something probably you want to forget as soon as possible and go home, just let it sit, get settled at home for a few days, then start working hard," Clijsters told reporters. "You don't want this to happen, especially at a Grand Slam."

Petrova won the first set in 18 minutes, rekindling memories of the 1988 French Open final, when Steffi Graf whizzed past a shaken Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in a record 32 minutes.

Clijsters finished with five winners and an ugly 29 unforced errors and all Petrova had to do was simply avoid imploding.

Clijsters had no explanation for her woeful display: "I made all the mistakes and she didn't really have to do much," she said.

Clijsters was unaccompanied by pressure upon her feel-good return to the tour last summer, but perhaps she was bothered by heightened expectations. After all, most everyone expected Clijsters to go deep in Melbourne and get to Henin in the quarterfinals. Pre-comeback, let's not forget, the 26-year-old often stuttered on the big stage, dropping her first four Grand Slam finals.

"Clijsters knows Justine won today and is in the same part of the draw, and I don't know whether that affected her," Shriver said.

As for Henin she survived against Alisa Kleybanova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in 2 hours, 21 minutes, following up on an almost-three-hour victory over Elena Dementieva under the lights two days earlier.

Henin trailed 3-1, 40-15 on serve in the second set against the towering Kleybanova, who made headlines by upsetting Ana Ivanovic in Melbourne last year and crushes nearly every ball, jerking her head like a shark eating prey in the process.

Henin has spoken more freely since reuniting with her family and gaining a new perspective on life in her role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, visiting such places as Congo and Cambodia. She didn't hold back in discussing how her body was coping with tough matches in the wake of nearly two years out of the game.

"My body suffered a lot," Henin told reporters. "It's not used to it anymore. It's been quite short to recover. Not enough sleep. I was in bed at 2 [a.m.] when I beat Dementieva. When I woke up this morning, I felt it's going to be tough today because I'm tired."

[+] EnlargeJustine Henin
Quinn Rooney/Getty ImagesFatigue might be a factor for Justine Henin, but she managed to move into the third round.

That's three straight long matches, if you count Henin's energy-sapping loss to Clijsters in the final of the Brisbane International last week. The first tournament of her comeback took so much out of Henin, she subsequently withdrew from the Sydney International.

Henin said her physiotherapist worked on her body for more than four hours Thursday. Her leg is slightly injured.

"I hope it's not going to get worse in the next 48 hours," said Henin, who's seeking an eighth major. "I think it's generally I need to recover from that. I'm pretty positive these two days I have are going to help me now."

Henin encounters another player hurting in the next round. Fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, destined for the top 10, needed treatment for a lingering back injury in a three-set win over Italy's Sara Errani. She was seen walking gingerly near the locker room minutes later.

Wickmayer, nonetheless, has won 11 straight matches this year, including qualifying. The world No. 16 endured qualifying because of a suspension, since overturned, for failing to provide her whereabouts to drug testers.

The American men, meanwhile, had their work cut out for them.

Roddick, who spent more time lifting weights in the offseason than working on anything technical, beat the svelte Feliciano Lopez 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3) in 3 hours, 32 minutes. They combined for almost 60 aces in a real slugfest.

Roddick, who's chasing that elusive second major, gradually wore down Lopez, a lefty prone to being competitive in big matches without actually pulling them out. Broken once in the first set, Roddick held serve from then on, not facing a break point in the second and fourth sets. However, he won't be entirely content with going 3-for-17 on break points.

"This guy started off gangbusters, the best play I've ever seen him play a set and a half, and he kind of surprised Andy," Roddick's straight-talking coach, Larry Stefanki, said. "He surprised me a little bit. Great competitors have a way of coming through at the end, and that's what Andy did."

Roddick goes in as the favorite against Fernando Gonzalez, Stefanki's former pupil, in the round of 16. Roddick has won six of their past seven meetings. Gonzalez doesn't enjoy facing big servers who shorten points like Roddick can.

In their last rendezvous, in the fourth round at the U.S. Open in 2008, Stefanki watched Gonzalez lose ugly in less than 1½ hours.

"That was not pretty," Stefanki said. "Fernando likes to play guys who put the ball in play and grind. Fernando can grind. He's very fit, but when a guy serves big against him, like Roddick, or Isner, he gets a little irritated."

Isner, sidelined with mono for part of last year, reached the fourth round for the second straight time at a major after he took out Roddick en route to the second week in New York.

Against Gael Monfils, Isner struck 26 aces to win 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5).

Monfils, aiming for a breakthrough result at a major outside France, blew a 4-1 lead in the third. Isner, fresh off his first title in New Zealand, saved a set point at 5-6 with, predictably, an ace.

So for two of the dominant tennis countries, it was a day of elation for some. For others, abject disappointment. Just ask Clijsters.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.