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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro’s bid for back-to-back Grand Slam titles ended in a fourth-round, five-set loss to No. 14 Marin Cilic on Sunday.
Justine Henin’s run in her first Grand Slam tournament in two years continued with a 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3 win over fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, placing her on course for a quarterfinal match against Nadia Petrova.
Petrova, who had a stunning 6-0, 6-1 win over U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters in the third round, made it back-to-back upset victories when she ousted third-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the final eight.
Maria Kirilenko added another big Russian name to her list of victims when No. 2 Dinara Safina retired from their fourth round match when was down 5-4, serving at 30-40. Safina, who reached the final here last year, limped off the court with what appeared to be either the recurrence of a back problem or an upper leg injury.
Kirilenko ousted 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in the first round.
Del Potro had an upset win over top-ranked Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final last September, ending the Swiss star’s streak of five straight titles in New York.
The 21-year-old Argentine was the first man since Novak Djokovic won the 2008 Australian Open to interrupt the Federer-Rafael Nadal domination of men’s Grand Slam titles, and started the season’s first major with the No. 4 seeding and among the favorites.
The four other leading men are still here. For now.
Defending champion Nadal and Andy Murray held off two of the tallest men and biggest servers in tennis earlier on Rod Laver Arena to set up a quarterfinal meeting.
Nadal, who beat Federer in the 2009 final, had a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, the tallest man on the tour.
No. 5 Murray overcame 6-foot-9 American John Isner 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-2 to reach the final eight in Australia for the first time. The 22-year-old Scot hasn’t dropped a set in four matches.
In an afternoon match at Hisense, 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie set another national mark by becoming the first Chinese player to reach the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park with a 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory over Alona Bondarenko. She next plays Kirilenko.
Henin, who is unranked and playing on a wild-card entry in her second tournament since returning from a 20-month retirement, said she missed tennis too much not to come back.
“It’s been great moment for myself,” Henin said. “It’s a great feeling to be back, been a great fight and thank you.”
The seven-time Grand Slam winner dominated the first-set tiebreaker after saving three set points in the 12th game. After dropping the second set, Henin broke Wickmayer’s serve to open the deciding third set and was on top after that.
Del Potro struggled most of the way through the 4-hour, 38-minute match against Cilic, who exacted a measure of revenge with the victory. The 21-year-old Croat lost to del Potro in the fourth round here last year and in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
Del Potro had been bothered by right wrist pain that forced him out of a warmup tournament and was undoubtedly weary from a five-set, second round win over James Blake – the longest of the tournament in terms of total games at 62.
He said the wrist and the foot were only part of the problem. What hurts? “The whole body.”
The increased expectations on him weren’t a bother, he said.
“No, I really enjoyed that pressure. The crowd is unbelievable with me. They support me every match, every point,” said del Potro, who plans to go home and recover. “I was down in every match, and they help me to keep fighting, like today. I really like it, that pressure.”
When del Potro hit his last backhand long, Cilic sank to both knees, arms in the air. He volleyed the ball high into the stands, where his most vocal supporters were cheering wildly.
“Today was my best so far,” Cilic said. “Physically I think (del Potro) was tired and he struggled, but I was feeling really good … and I had some crazy fans.”
Cilic, who converted four of his 16 breakpoint chances, will next play the winner of a big-serving duel between former No. 1 Andy Roddick or 2007 Australian Open finalist Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.
Nadal only dropped serve once against Karlovic, to surrender the second set. In the third and fourth sets, he broke the Croat in the third games to get on top early.
He showed plenty of emotion after earning a breakpoint in the third set, screaming out “Vamos!” and spinning around as he ripped his left elbow back and raised his left knee.
When he converted the break for a 2-1 lead, he made three-punch celebration.
“I just wait my chance. Be focused on my serve … and wait the chance on the return,” Nadal said. “I was returning really well when I had the chance to touch the ball.”
Murray lost to Federer in the 2008 U.S. Open, his only trip to a Grand Slam final, and knows he’ll probably have to beat both Nadal and Federer to claim his first major here.
He rated Isner’s serve among the best in the game and was just happy to get through unscathed.
“I moved really well since the start,” Murray said. “I didn’t drop a set yet … not too much to complain about.”
After two first-round exits in warmup events, Petrova has built momentum in Melbourne.
“Today was similar. I felt like my motivation, my concentration was on the same level,” said Petrova, comparing her wins over Clijsters and French Open champion Kuznetsova. The 27-year-old Russian doesn’t think she’s achieved her potential yet when it most counts. In her best runs, she lost French Open semifinals in 2003 and ’05.
“I know there’s still a lot to accomplish,” Petrova said. “There’s still a lot to let out. That’s what I’m really looking for.”
On the Net:
Australian Open Web site:@ http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/index.html