Clijsters, Henin win in quarterfinals
BRISBANE, Australia -- Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin overcame lapses to win their Brisbane International quarterfinals Thursday, raising the prospect of an all-Belgian final between two players making comebacks.
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Clijsters, five tournaments into a return from retirement that has already netted a U.S. Open title, needed four match points to beat Lucie Safarova 6-1, 0-6, 6-4.
It took Henin 24 minutes between her first match point and her sixth before she finally put away seventh-seeded Melinda Czink of Hungary 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
Henin, who won seven Grand Slam titles before quitting in May 2008 while holding the No. 1 ranking, is back on tour and grateful for every match she gets to prepare for the Australian Open starting Jan. 18 in Melbourne.
"That's the kind of match that I need -- not that long maybe," said Henin, who advanced to face another former No. 1, Ana Ivanovic, who overcame her own wobbles to win 6-4, 7-6 (6) against 18-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The turning point came when second-seeded Stepanek produced a stunning return at 30-0 down with Odesnik serving for the first set at 6-5. He next plays third-seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils, who rallied to beat James Blake 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 after squandering three match points.
Clijsters raced to a 5-0 advantage before cruising through the first set against Safarova, but the No. 41-ranked Czech dominated the second with her serve and powerful forehand.
Clijsters got the crucial break in the fifth game of the third set, but still struggled to close it out, wasting three match points at 5-4 before finally clinching the win.
"When I lost the second set 6-0, I said, 'Forget about it, let's refocus,' " Clijster said. "I'm glad with the win, especially the way I came back after that not-so-good second set."
Henin's win over Czink lasted 2 hours, 21 minutes, and she struggled at times in a match that opened with five straight service breaks.
She dropped a set for the first time in three matches of her comeback, and wasted a break and three match points in the third set. Henin finally clinched it on her sixth match point after earning a 6-3 lead with an ace in the tiebreaker.
"I wouldn't say it's a good feeling, but it's probably something I needed," Henin said. "In the end it was quite tight and nerves had to be solid."
Henin decided to return to the tour after seeing Clijsters win the U.S. Open in September, three tournaments into her comeback.
Henin's first match back was a 7-5, 7-5 win Monday over second-seeded Nadia Petrova, then she won 6-4, 6-3 over No. 132-ranked Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan.
She is playing on wildcard entries in Brisbane this week and Sydney next week ahead.
"It's great, to play a fourth match in a row now," Henin said. "It's more than what I could expect coming here. I needed matches -- I got them."
Ivanovic won her only Grand Slam at the 2008 French Open, not long after Henin retired, but she didn't win a tournament in 2009 and has dropped to No. 21 in the rankings.
The 22-year-old credited boyfriend Adam Scott, who has been as high as No. 3 in the world golf rankings and is supporting her in Brisbane, for helping her learn to keep calm.
"I get very emotional on court and I have highs and lows. That's something I've learned from him, to be more patient and just to be more in control of what's happening out there," Ivanovic said. "Still, I get excited. There's a lot of Adrenalin when it's close. And when it's second set, tiebreaker, I just let myself go sometimes."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press