Kim Clijsters suffered a humbling third round defeat while Justine Henin narrowly avoided the same fate on an intriguing day at the Australian Open today. Clijsters, one of the favourites to win the title, was blasted off court by 19th seeded Russian Nadia Petrova 6-0, 6-1 in only 52 minutes, shocking the large crowd who had come to cheer her on. Earlier Henin was pushed to the brink by another Russian, Alisa Kleybanova, with the seven-time Grand Slam winner forced to come from a set and 1-3 down to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Jelena Jankovic, the former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia joined Clijsters on the sidelines when she was beaten by Ukraine's Alona Bondarenko 6-2, 6-3. But there were no such problems for second seed Dinara Safina, who thumped Britain's last remaining hope Elena Baltacha 6-1, 6-2. Clijsters was at a loss to explain her unexpected defeat to Petrova. The 26-year-old said she had not changed any of her preparation and felt nothing was amiss during her warm-up on court.
"I'm very superstitious with my routines and everything, so I really stick to that every day," she said. "I ate the same, slept the same, everything - that's why it's even more confusing in a way, as well." It was Petrova's first win over the Belgian in five meetings. "I really tried to focus on winning every single point," Petrova said, adding that she had been preparing for a long three-setter.
"[But] when I broke her again in the second set, then I realised, you know, this is like a two-set match for me, and I just started cruising through it." Petrova raced through the first set in only 18 minutes, with Clijsters winning a measly five points in the first six games. The second set was not much better for the Belgian world No 15 as the 28-year-old Petrova ruthlessly took advantage of her opponent's struggles.
Henin also seemed headed for defeat aganist Kleybanova before she staged a remarkable recovery. The 27-year-old, playing her first Grand Slam since coming out of retirement, will now take on fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer in the fourth round after she beat Italy's Sara Errani 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3. It was Henin's second marathon match in succession following her win over fifth seed Elena Dementieva in almost three hours in the second round. "Well, I faced a few issues, and my body suffered a lot," conceded the former world No 1.
"It's not used to it anymore. I didn't have 48 hours (since her last match) - it's been quite a short recovery time. When I woke up this morning, I felt it was going to be tough today because I was tired." Safina buried some of her 2009 ghosts when she got through her match on Rod Laver Arena. It was her first appearance on Melbourne's centre court since last year's final, when she imploded to lose to Serena Williams in straight sets 6-0, 6-3.
"I didn't have good memories of the last match I played on Rod Laver Arena, for sure," the second seeded Safina said. "I am glad to be back and I had to fight hard and make sure I won to forget the bad memories." * AFP