Tennis: Clijsters advances to final against Henin
BRISBANE, Australia — Top-seeded Kim Clijsters set up a highly anticipated all-Belgian final against seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin with a victory over Andrea Petkovic on Friday at the Brisbane International.
Clijsters beat the 22-year-old German 6-4, 6-2, hours after Henin secured a spot in the final of her first tournament since returning from retirement.
Henin, who advanced 6-3, 6-2 over 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, leads Clijsters 12-10 in head-to-head matches after winning their last three meetings — all in 2006.
“I don’t think anybody, not even in Belgium, anywhere in the world, expected this would ever happen again,” Clijsters said. “It’s nice to be a part of this.”
Men’s top seed Andy Roddick had 16 aces in a 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the late match Friday to move into a semifinal against fourth-seeded Tomas Berdych, who beat eighth-seeded Thomas Bellucci of Brazil 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (3).
Defending champion Radek Stepanek will take on Frenchman Gael Monfils in the other semifinal on Saturday, before the women’s final in the night session on Pat Rafter Arena.
“I wanted to come here and play well, get better with each match and get matches in. That’s my biggest thing,” said Roddick, playing his first event since hurting his knee in October.
“I’d love to win here. The goal is to be prepared for Melbourne and I feel like that has been accomplished for the most part,” he added. “Now it’s the business end of the tournament — you want to try to go as far as you can.”
Henin quit in May 2008 when she held the No. 1 ranking. She announced her comeback last September, soon after the 26-year-old Clijsters won the U.S. Open in her third tournament back after more than two years in retirement.
“It’s always special when I play Kim. It’s a day I like a lot,” Henin said. “It’s a perfect situation to play if it’s a Belgian final. That’s what a lot of people hoped for and expected.”
The Belgian pair grew up playing tennis together, Clijsters saying they shared rooms while traveling for under-12 tournaments before eventually going down differing paths.
She thinks that they can help push each other in their comebacks.
“Knowing Justine, she’s not the kind of person who’s going to go with the flow, come out and see how things are going,” Clijsters said. “I knew she’d come out here being extremely fit and ready to go from the first point that she played. And she has done that.”
During her time off the tour, Clijsters got married and had a child. Unranked and unseeded at New York in September, she become the first mother to win a major since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.
She only played one tournament between the U.S. Open and Brisbane and was expecting a “big challenge” against Henin on Saturday night.
“We’ve always made each other better players,” she said. “Hopefully, we can bring another good match here.”
Henin had some trouble with her first serve but otherwise was too consistent for third-seeded Ivanovic, who was playing her first tournament since September.
The 27-year-old Belgian said she’d already achieved beyond her expectations as a wild card entrant in the first of her Australian Open tuneup events.
“Perfect situation for me. I’m the final of my first tournament back — it’s amazing,” Henin said. “It is a surprise, of course, because it’s not as easy as it seems maybe on the court.
“Eighteen months without competition, it’s not that easy,” she added. “I didn’t know what to expect but it’s more than what I could expect for.”