Down four match points and hobbling on an ankle injury, defending champion Kim Clijsters somehow rallied for a dramatic 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 win over Li Na at the Australian Open yesterday.
Clijsters was in pain from the left ankle she twisted in the seventh game. Li was just a bundle of nerves. The French Open champion failed to serve out the fourth-round match at 5-4 in the second set and then led 6-2 in the tiebreaker, but again Clijsters refused to yield.
“I said in my mind: ‘Keep fighting,’” Clijsters said. “You never know what happens on the other side of the court.”
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer stayed on course for a semi-final meeting in matches either side of Clijsters’ win at Rod Laver Arena. Federer ended the run of Australian teenager Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, while Nadal won in straight sets too, beating fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
Top women’s seed Caroline Wozniacki ended the day’s play with a 6-0, 7-5 win over Jelena Jankovic and in the next round she is scheduled to play Clijsters, the most unlikely winner of the day.
Li’s best chance to clinch victory — and gain revenge for her three-set loss to Clijsters in last year’s final — came on her fourth match point.
Clijsters played a poor drop shot, giving her opponent the chance to put the ball into the open court. Instead, Li tentatively hit the ball almost straight back to Clijsters, who sent up a perfect lob that dropped just inside the baseline.
Clijsters won six straight points to take the tiebreaker and the first four games of the deciding set.
Clijsters then overcame a wobble of her own, losing her serve at 5-2 in the third set, before finally closing out the fourth-round match on her second match point.
Li broke down in tears at the end of her post-match press conference.
Clijsters was hurt in the first set while serving at 3-3 and 30-30. As she hit a forehand, her left foot got stuck on the surface and her ankle twisted awkwardly.
She got up to finish the point, but then immediately called for the trainer and had the injury strapped.
Clijsters’ movement was clearly slowed when she resumed, but playing in her last Australian Open before quitting tennis at the end of the season, she said she did not want to bow out in Melbourne with a retirement.
“I knew if I could just try to let the medication sink in or if I could get through the first 20 minutes, half hour, I think the pain would go away a little bit and then maybe with the adrenaline I could just fly through it,” she said.
Federer has not lost to a teenager since 2006 and that run continued as he disappointed the home crowd with a comprehensive win over 19-year-old Tomic.
Tomic had beaten seeded players Fernando Verdasco and Alexandr Dolgopolov Jr in earlier rounds, but Federer was a step up in class. The 16-time Grand Slam champion broke six times as he set up a quarter-final against 11th seed Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.
“I thought I played a really good match,” said Federer, through to his 31st straight Grand Slam quarter-final.
“I knew I had to. Anything else wouldn’t have done the job tonight,” he said.
Nadal was almost as convincing in his win over Lopez.
The 2009 champion had his right knee heavily strapped and had his left ankle taped after three games of the first set, but afterward said he was “fine.”