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A tenacious Justine Henin returned to big-time with a bang yesterday by downing fifth seed Elena Dementieva at the Australian Open, while Rafael Nadal kept his title defence on track.
Playing only her second tournament since making a comeback from an 18-month retirement, the seven-time Grand Slam champion showed she still has what it takes in a 7-5, 7-6 (8/6) epic that lasted three hours.
The Belgian, who won the Australian Open in 2004 and made this year's tournament as a wildcard, said she did not think she would ever experience emotions like that again. "It was a special night. That's why I came back on the tour, to live these kind of matches," a relieved Henin after making the third round.
"It was very emotional for me on the court at the end because there was so much intensity." She next plays 27th seed Alisa Kleybanova with a potential quarter-final looming against fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who was given a thorough examination by Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn.
Clijsters, also on the comeback trail after a break to start a family, triumphed 6-3, 6-3, but it was harder than the score suggested for the 15th seed.
Her serve was broken in each set before she dug deep to win. "Physically, I feel good," she said.
"I feel like I'm good enough on the day to beat my opponents. It's not with my best tennis yet, but hopefully I can save that when it's really necessary."
Spanish second seed Nadal was in rip-roaring form as he smashed hapless Slovak Lukas Lacko 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 to stay on track for a potential last eight meeting with Andy Murray.
The Scotsman also looked ominous form with a flawless 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 mauling of Frenchman Marc Gicquel.
"Second round always is easier to play, you are more adapted to the conditions and everything. I think I improved a little bit," said Nadal, who relinquished his number one ranking to Roger Federer last year.
"My real goal right now is just try to be competitive in every tournament that I play, and feel when I go on court I can win against everybody."
Fourth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina was given a huge scare by American James Blake.
The US Open champion battled for over four hours before winning a titanic five-setter to reach the third round 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 5-7, 6-3, 10-8. Other top names also showing their credentials included Dinara Safina, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Safina, the second seed who was beaten in the final last year by Serena Williams, posted a 6-3, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic's Barbora Zahlavova Strycova but struggled. She made nine more unforced errors (40 to 31) than her 57th-ranked opponent and had problems with her serve, facing multiple break points each time.
Unlike the high-profile Clijsters and Henin, Russian third seed Kuznetsova is flying under the radar and looked impressive in her 6-2, 6-2 defeat of countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Danish fourth seed Caroline Wozniacki downed Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4, 6-2 while Belarussian seventh seed Victoria Azarenka blasted her way past France's Stephanie Cohen-Aloro 6-2, 6-0. In the men's draw, Roddick ranted at the umpire after completing a straight sets win over Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.
The American seventh seed had just served out a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory when he continued to argue over a Hawk Eye video review decision which narrowly went against him on the first of his two match points.
He later apologised.
Andy Murray yesterday disposed of 57th-ranked Frenchman Marc Gicquel in ruthless fashion in one hour and 50 minutes, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
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