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Henin's comeback continues

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Former No. 1-ranked Justine Henin reached the semifinals in her Grand Slam comeback, beating Nadia Petrova 7-6 (3), 7-5 earlier today to take out the last seeded player in her half of the Australian Open draw.

Henin, unranked and playing on a wild-card entry at Melbourne Park, went down a break in the second set before finding range with her powerful ground strokes and winning seven of the next nine games to finish off No. 19-seeded Petrova.

"It was difficult to find the energy today," Henin said. "At the end I played much more aggressive tennis.

"I didn't want to go to the tiebreaker. I wanted to close out the match."

The 27-year-old Belgian beat Petrova at the Brisbane International in her first match back on tour on Jan. 4 after almost 20 months in retirement.

Henin reached the Brisbane final, where she lost in three sets to fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. It was Clijsters' win at the U.S. Open last September, in the third tournament of a comeback from two years in retirement, which inspired seven-time Grand Slam winner Henin to return to the tour.

Petrova helped unblock Henin's path to the semifinals by ousting two reigning major champions on her way to the quarterfinals: Clijsters in the third round; and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth.

Henin has not played at a major since losing in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Maria Sharapova at the 2008 Australian Open.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams ended local hopes of breaking a three-decade drought at the Australian Open on Monday, the eve of the national holiday.

Federer beat former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 -- his 15th straight win over the Australian -- and defending champion Williams defeated No. 13 Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-2 in back-to-back fourth-round matches on Rod Laver Arena.

"It's important when you're playing a local girl to not let the crowd get too involved or else they'll kill you," said Williams, who only conceded seven points on her serve in the 65-minute match.

The main story lines after Monday's play: Federer will play Davydenko; and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will meet 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals

Serena and Venus Williams are each a win away of setting up a sisters semifinal.

Venus Williams advanced with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Francesca Schiavone and will play No. 16 Li Na, who ousted U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3. Li joined 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie to give China two players in the quarterfinals of one Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

Li beat Venus in the 2008 Beijing Olympics quarterfinals, their only previous meeting.

Serena, who has won the Australian title each odd-numbered year since beating Venus for the 2003 championship, will play seventh-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who won the last 10 games to beat No. 9 Vera Zvonareva of Russia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.