Henin's hopes evaporate in the Melbourne heat

Justine Henin’s hopes of repeating her memorable run to the final of last year’s Australian Open evaporated in the heat of another day of glorious sunshine here today. The 28-year-old Belgian was the second favourite to win the title, behind her compatriot Kim Clijsters, but was outplayed by a rejuvenated Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won their third-round match 6-4, 7-6.

When Henin came here 12 months ago she had just begun her comeback after an 18-month “retirement”. The former world No 1 reached the final of her first tournament in Brisbane, losing to Clijsters, and went on to do the same here before losing to Serena Williams.

This year represented yet another comeback for the 2004 Melbourne champion, who spent the second half of last year recovering from an elbow injury sustained at Wimbledon. She made her first reappearance in the Hopman Cup mixed team event in Perth at the start of the year but has always said that she does not expect to be at her best for many months yet.

So it proved. Kuznetsova, who has lost weight during the off season and is looking fitter than she has for a while, dominated the contest and even conquered her own nerves at the end, when she twice failed to serve out for the match. Henin took the second set into a tie-break and Kuznetsova scorned three match points before forcing her opponent into a forehand error on the fourth.

Henin, who had beaten Britain’s Elena Baltacha in the previous round, is still a wonderful ball striker and ferocious competitor, but her 41 unforced errors and nine double faults proved fatal against an opponent she had beaten in 16 of their 18 previous meetings. Currently No 13 in the world, the Belgian will drop several places when the rankings are updated at the end of this tournament.

“She was just better than me, especially in the important moments,” Henin said afterwards. “I had some opportunities in the second set to come back, but I never really took the lead in this match. She was much more aggressive than me. That made a big difference.

“I felt she got a bit nervous [at the end] and I had nothing to lose any more, so I just went for my chances. It was a bit better at the end, but not enough. I served a few double faults in the tie-break, made too many mistakes and didn’t hit enough winners or create enough chances that I could take.”

As for her physical state, Henin said: “I know I’m not 100 per cent. I knew it before I walked on the court. That's why I say there are no excuses. I decided to play not being 100 per cent. It's been difficult over the last three days with my elbow. I just did everything that I could to make it OK, but it wasn't enough.”

Kuznetsova is only 25 but is regarded as a tour veteran, having won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open as long ago as 2004. Although she added a second major crown with her victory at the French Open two years ago, the Russian has been in a steady decline and is currently No 26 in the world rankings, having previously been as high as No 2.

“I'm really pleased with way I played today, especially in the first set,” Kuznetsova said. “After that, it's tennis and you get nerves. I wanted to win so much and it was a great atmosphere. Match by match, I'm getting better and better. It's a real pleasure for me to play on this court today.”

Kuznetsova will now meet Francesca Schiavone, the French Open champion, who beat Romania’s Monica Niculescu 6-0, 7-6. Schiavone had struggled in the two previous rounds, coming back from a set down to beat Spain’s Arantxa Parra Santonja and beating Rebecca Marino 9-7 in a tense final set.

Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1, maintained her record of not dropping a set when she beat Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-3. The Dane will now play Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, who extended her fine run by beating the Russian Vesna Manasieva 6-1, 6-3. Sevastova, the world No 46, had never gone beyond the second round of a Grand Slam until her victory over Yanina Wickmayer here.

Li Na, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park 12 months ago, arrived here fresh from her victory over Clijsters in the final at Sydney last week and is still in top form. China’s world No 11 beat Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-1 and will now play Victoria Azarenka, a 6-3, 6-3 winner over South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all