U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro held off James Blake in a marathon five-setter on Wednesday, while Justine Henin was advancing in her Grand Slam comeback with a 7-5, 7-6 (6) win over the reigning Olympic champion Elena Dementieva.
The fourth seed del Potro beat his 30-year-old American rival 6-4, 6-7 (3), 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 in four hours, 17 minutes on Hisense Arena, the second showcourt at Melbourne Park.
Henin beats Dementieva
Seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Henin, meanwhile, produced the biggest win of her comeback with a 7-5, 7-6 (6) defeat of the fifth-seeded Elena Dementieva in the night match on Rod Laver Arena, the center court.
The win for the unseeded Henin was another step closer to a possible quarterfinal match against U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, who scored a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win over Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand.
It was Clijsters’ U.S. Open title only three tournaments back from two years in retirement that inspired Henin, her fellow Belgian, to return to the tour.
Earlier on Wednesday, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick continued their paths towards a possible semifinal matchup.
But the thread that ties Nadal and Roddick together from 2009 - Roger Federer, who beat Roddick in the semi-finals last year before losing to Nadal in the final - will likely still have something to say about who the eventual champion is on Jan. 31. The top-seeeded Swiss star is on the other side of the draw and cannot meet either Nadal or Roddick until the final.
Nadal breezed to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 second-round win over Lukas Lacko of Slovakia while Roddick was equally untroubled by his opponent in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci.
Murray eases through
Britain’s Andy Murray, who could meet Nadal in the quarterfinals, advanced to the third round after beating Marc Gicquel of France 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. Murray is attempting to win his first Grand Slam title and become the first British man in more than 70 years to win a singles major.
Del Potro, who beat Federer in last year’s U.S. Open final, had a chance to serve for the match at 6-5 in the fifth after breaking Blake. But Blake broke back immediately, helped by two errors from the 21-year-old Argentine.
Del Potro again broke Blake for a 9-8 lead and another chance to serve it out. He closed with a big serve out to Blake’s backhand side on his first match point. Blake fell to 4-13 in five-set matches.
Roddick argued with the chair umpire, Fergus Murphy of Ireland, over a disputed call at a critical time that was ruled out when it was eventually shown to be in. Roddick felt he possibly could have returned the ball if it had not been called out, and let the umpire know in no uncertain terms.
The Hisense Arena crowd didn’t appreciate Roddick continuing the verbal jousting with Murphy after the match ended and booed the American.
The former world number one Roddick took time to review video after the match, and was conciliatory in a news conference that followed.
“To be fair, I was more wrong than I thought I was out on court,” Roddick said. “It was a lot closer than I thought as far as when the call came. I thought I was going to be 100 percent right.”
Nadal, who converted five of his first six break-point chances, had no such dramas.
“I played a serious match. I think I played the match I needed to play,” the six-time Grand Slam winner said.
Clijsters and Henin met in the Brisbane International final nearly two weeks ago, with Clijsters winning in Henin’s first official tournament in her comeback.
Henin had a match point at 5-4 and 40—-0 but netted a forehand, then Dementieva produced consecutive backhand winners to level the second set.
She again had a chance to serve for the match but was broken, with Dementieva forcing a tiebreaker, and then leading it 3-1. The Russian also had a set point in the tiebreaker before Henin won three straight points to finish the game.
“Finally, I made it!” said Henin, who has no ranking and is playing on a wild card entry. Of her comeback, she added: “It’s only positive things. I couldn’t believe I’d live this kind of emotions.”
After her match, Clijsters had a few words of warning for Henin after admitting that she doesn’t always play her matches “conveniently, but good enough.”
Clijsters sets up Petrova clash
Next up for the 26-year-old Clijsters will be No. 19 Nadia Petrova, one of the Russian women already into the third round along with French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, last year’s Australian Open runner-up Dinara Safina and Maria Kirilenko.
Kuznetsova was first into the third round when she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-2. Safina had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Barbora Sahlavova Strycova — saving four break points in the last game before serving it out.
Kuznetsova, who has two Grand Slam singles championships — adding the French last year to her win at the 2004 U.S. Open — has a chance to reach the No. 1 ranking for the first time if she takes the Australian Open title.
“Yes, definitely, I know the way to the finals and beyond — I’ve done it twice,” Kuznetsova said of her chances of winning a major. She’s never gone past the quarterfinals in Melbourne.”
Safina has held the No. 1 ranking but never won a major. She next plays Britain’s Elena Baltacha, who has already equaled her best run at the season’s first major by reaching the third round with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Kateryna Bondarenko.