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Thursday, January 21, 2010
Updated: January 22, 7:01 PM ET
Clijsters crushed; Henin escapes

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The much-anticipated quarterfinal between the back-from-retirement Belgians dissolved in 52 minutes on Friday at the Australian Open.

That's the time it took for Kim Clijsters to lose, in embarrassing fashion, her third-round match at the season's first Grand Slam tournament.

The 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Nadia Petrova was the worst of Clijsters' career and as one-sided as the score indicated. Clijsters lost the first set in just 18 minutes and won only five points in her first seven games.

Justine Henin, another Belgian who was inspired to return to the tour following a 20-month absence after Clijsters won last year's U.S. Open, did her part, with some difficulty, earlier Friday in beating Alisa Kleybanova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. The two Belgians had been on track to meet in the final eight at Melbourne Park.

Clijsters hasn't been on the receiving end of such a lopsided scoreline since losing the French Open final to Henin 6-0, 6-4 in 2003.

"I was completely off. I think tennis-wise, I didn't feel the ball at all," Clijsters said. "On the other hand, she was good, but I made all the mistakes and she really didn't have to do much.

"It's something you don't want to happen too often. It sucks that it has to happen at this stage of this tournament. That's sports -- it can happen."

Henin's match Friday was her eighth since she came out of a 20-month retirement, just long enough to expect better of herself as a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion.

She let that show Friday. After fluffing a routine volley to set up two break points for her opponent, she picked up the ball with her racket, bounced it into her left hand and threw it over the net in disgust.

The minor temper tantrum seemed to work. Minutes later, a point away from trailing 4-1 in the second set Henin fought back instead to level it. Then she dominated the match.

An hour after the match, Henin, who retired as No. 1 in May 2008, seemed to forget the episode.

"I just tried to stay calm ... wait for things to get better, and that paid," Henin said. "It proved again that that's probably a good attitude to have. It's been more than what I could expect when I arrived in Australia."

Henin will play Yanina Wickmayer in the fourth round.

Wickmayer, who is ranked No. 16 but unseeded because she was under a suspension -- since overturned -- for breaching the World Anti-Doping Agency's "whereabouts rule" when direct entries closed for the Australian Open -- advanced 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3 over Sara Errani.

Wickmayer received treatment on her back during the second set and hopes the injury will not be a problem for Henin's match.

"Let's hope I can fix it up by the next match," she said. "It will be a question. Let's hope I can recover enough."

Second-seeded Dinara Safina, the 2009 finalist, advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Britain's Elena Baltacha.

Safina will have a more difficult assignment next round against fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko, who beat Italian Roberta Vinci 7-5, 7-6 (4). Kirilenko also beat 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in the opening round.

"I think Sharapova hits it harder than Safina, so I am prepared for sure," Kirilenko said.

Former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic was upset 6-2, 6-3 by No. 31 Alona Bondarenko.

French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova beat 118th-ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to advance.

The third-ranked Kuznetsova, who also won the 2004 U.S. Open, gave herself a chance of improving on her record at the Australian Open. In eight trips to Melbourne Park, she has never advanced past the quarterfinals and last year was beaten by eventual champion Serena Williams in the final eight.

Kuznetsova was up a break in the final set before allowing Kerber to even it at 4-4. The Russian broke Kerber's service again in the ninth game and held in the next to take the match.