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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Kim Clijsters came to the Australian Open as an inspiration to her countrywomen and mothers everywhere.
After her unexpected win at the U.S. Open, hype about back-to-back major titles followed her to Melbourne Park for the season-opening Grand Slam.
All that ended in 52 minutes Friday in her most humiliating loss: a 6-0, 6-1 third-round defeat to No. 19-ranked Nadia Petrova. Also lost was the chance of a quarterfinal against fellow Belgian Justine Henin, a former No. 1 playing her first major in two years.
“I was completely off,” Clijsters said. “I think tenniswise, I didn’t feel the ball at all.”
Defending champion Rafael Nadal also was displeased with his game, although he had a victory to show for it – a 6-4, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 decision over Germany’s Philipp Kohlscreiber at night.
“In the third I started terrible, no?” the Spaniard said. “Everybody has not very good days.”
U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro advanced, and No. 5 Andy Murray moved into a fourth-round match against American John Isner, who beat No. 12 Gael Monfils. Andy Roddick and Fernando Gonzalez won to set up a fourth-round pairing.
No. 2 Dinara Safina and No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova went through and will be part of two all-Russian women’s matches in the last 16. Belgians Henin and Yanina Wickmayer will vie for a place in the quarterfinals.
Kuznetsova, the French Open champion who no doubt expected to play Clijsters in the next round, is just happy to get a chance at fellow Russian Petrova after holding off Germany’s Angelique Kerber 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a match ending at 1:43 a.m. She said she’d kept herself motivated by watching Rafa’s match after speaking in the locker room to Clijsters.
Petrova said she’d prepared for a long match and was stunned by how she dominated. Kuznetsova was equally impressed with Petrova, insisting there’s nothing predictable about women’s tennis.
Clijsters’ assessment of her performance hadn’t changed much after she’d had time to go home and collect her thoughts. She emphasized in a later tweet: “Boy oh boy what a night! … A freak match happens. Hopefully never again. Life goes on and I’ll be back fighting.”
Clijsters couldn’t get anything right. The reliable forehand wasn’t working, the serve was letting her down. The feet weren’t moving as they should.
“At some points I was just happy I was hitting a ball in,” she said. “That’s how bad it was.”
That might explain why she won only five points in the first seven games and didn’t hold serve until the fourth game of the second set, drawing a mix of ironic and excited cheers from a crowd that was almost entirely behind her.
“There were points where I really wanted to break my racket into pieces,” she said, “but … that’s not going to help either.”
Henin was sitting out of a major for the seventh time when Clijsters won in New York last September. Watching the jubilant scenes of Clijsters and her toddler daughter, Jada, celebrating the championship at Flushing Meadows inspired Henin to come out of retirement herself.
She’d beaten Clijsters in the final of the French and U.S. Opens in 2003 and the 2004 Australian Open.
And then there was the prospect of a quarterfinal in Melbourne after Henin – unseeded and playing on a wild-card entry – landed in the same quarter as her old friend and rival.
Heightening expectations was the vintage finish to their first meeting post-retirement, when each had match points before Clijsters won the final of a warmup tournament at Brisbane in three sets on Jan. 9.
That rematch will have to wait. Henin found a way into the fourth round, relying on the grit that has been synonymous with the diminutive Belgian’s career. She came back from a set and a break down in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Alisa Kleybanova, earning the right to play Wickmayer.
Wickmayer beat Sara Errani 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3. Wickmayer 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.
Safina advanced in straight sets over Britain’s Elena Baltacha and will next meet fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko, who beat Italian Roberta Vinci 7-5, 7-6 (4). Kirilenko defeated 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in the opening round and has plans for Safina, too.
“I think Sharapova hits it harder than Safina, so I am prepared for sure,” she said.
Nadal, who topped Roger Federer in last year’s final, broke Kohlschreiber’s serve in the 11th game of the fourth set in the decisive game of the match.
He will next play Ivo Karlovic, who downed Ivan Ljubicic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7), and could play a quarterfinal against Murray, a 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 winner over Florent Serra of France.
But Murray has to first get past Isner, a 6-foot-9 American who last week in Auckland won his first title.
“I was just kind of riding a wave of momentum, and I still am,” Isner said after his 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) win over Monfils. “Hopefully I can keep it going.”
No. 4 Del Potro beat Florian Mayer of Germany 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5 and No. 7 Roddick advanced 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3) over Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
Three-time Australian champion Roger Federer was to play No. 31 Albert Montanes, and 2008 winner Novak Djokovic faced Denis Istomin on Saturday. Defending women’s champion Serena Williams and sister Venus play third-round matches.
Clijsters will be concentrating on family matters Saturday, not tennis. Of course, she does hope a Belgian wins – even if she won’t say which one.
“This is something probably you want to forget as soon as possible and go home and, you know, just let it sit, get settled at home for a few days and then start working hard again and try to forget about it,” she said. “I’m going to try to not let a match like this get me down or start doubting myself or anything.”