Justine Henin remains on track for a finals showdown with countrywoman Kim Clijsters in Brisbane, while three of the top four seeds are in the semifinals in Auckland.
With the Australian Open just 10 days away, things are heating up nicely on the women’s tour as the first two tournaments of the year reach a climax.
Justine Henin’s dream comeback to the WTA Tour continued in Brisbane on Thursday as she booked her place in the semifinals with a three-set victory over No. 7 seed Melinda Czink.
Kim Clijsters dropped her first set of the tournament but fought back to defeat a determined Lucie Safarova.
There were also victories in the quarterfinals for Ana Ivanovic and Andrea Petkovic.
For the third match in a row, Henin started slowly out of the blocks but remained in contention with a number of strong return games.
After the first five games went against serve, Henin finally secured a service hold to take a 4-2 lead. Seizing the momentum, Henin constantly stepped up on the Hungarian’s serve, breaking for a third consecutive time before serving out the set with ease moments later.
After cruising through the first set in 31 minutes, another straight sets victory looked on the cards against an out-of-sorts Czink.
Unlike Nadia Petrova and qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva, though, Czink took the match to a third set. She held serve throughout the second set and rallied from a three-game deficit in the decider before losing narrowly in the tie-break.
Henin, the victor 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5), will face third seed Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals after the Serbian took just under one-and-a-half hours to see off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 7-6(8)
Ivanovic looks to be in decent shape, although her first real test of the year will likely come if she progresses to the latter stages in Sydney or the second week of the Australian Open.
Despite dropping just six points on serve in a 6-2 first set, Ivanovic’s second serve was largely ineffective, especially in the following set when she was broken three times and forced to save a set point before coming through 8-6 in the breaker.
In the top half of the Brisbane International draw, No. 1 seed Clijsters faced her first real test of the week.
Clijsters broke the Safarova serve twice in the first set to jump out to a commanding 6-1 lead, but the 22-year-old Czech responded with a flurry. She won 10 of her 11 first service points in the second set and constantly battered the Belgian’s second serve to take the match into a decider.
After two lopsided sets, the third was of a higher quality by both ladies. Safarova was broken just once and Clijsters never faced a break point as she battled her way into the semifinals with a 6-1, 0-6, 6-4 victory.
Clijsters will play German Andrea Petkovic in the semifinal after Petkovic upset No. 4 seed Daniela Hantuchova in straight sets 6-4, 6-2.
Petkovic won five of the six break points she created, dumping the world’s No. 24 out in one hour, 13 minutes.
In Auckland, top seed Flavia Pannetta never even faced a break point in her 61-minute 6-1, 6-2 victory over Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, while No. 3 seed Yanina Wickmayer brushed by wild card Kimiko Date Krumm 6-6, 6-2 in less than an hour.
No. 4 seed Francesca Shiavone had no trouble knocking off Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-3 and Shahar Peer proved too much for Maria Kirilenko to handle in her 6-0, 3-6, 6-1 quarterfinal.
27-year-old Panetta, ranked No. 12 in the world, will face doubles partner Shiavone in Friday’s semifinal before teaming up later in the day to face top-seeded pairing Cara Black and Liezel Huber.
In the bottom half of the draw, Peer will meet Wickmayer on Centre Court for a place in the final.
Unseeded Peer looked impressive when she was winning but seemed to lack ideas when her back was up against the wall against Kirilenko.
After a brutal first set which Peer wrapped up in just 23 minutes, Kirilenko came out much more aggressive in the second. Despite still making errors from both flanks, her game was already noticeably improved. She fought off break points at 1-1 and then battered Peer with deep cross-court forehands to move ahead 3-1.
Her touch at the net was much sharper and her ground strokes were relentless. The pressure was obviously getting to the Israeli.
After going behind 4-1, Peer’s coach Pablo Giacopelli spoke to her at a change of ends. He told her to stop jumping up on the return, to hit the ball deeper, and to get Kirilenko on the run.
“I can’t do it, I don’t know what to do,” Peer said. The reply from Giacopelli? “You can. Stop saying you can’t. Stop sticking your ass out when you serve.” Peer held serve but lost the set 6-3.
Peer saved three break points in the opening game of the third set and then broke Kirilenko in the second. With it went the Russian’s resolve. Nineteen minutes, two breaks of serve, and an ace later, and Peer was in the semi finals.
Want to know what's happening on the ATP Tour? Nima has everything you need to know about Federer and Nadal reaching the semis in Qatar, defending champ Radek Stepanek reaching the semifinals of Brisbane, and the run down on what's been happening at the Aircel Chennai Open in India here .