Toronto, Canada – By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Comeback queen Justine Henin issued an ominous warning to her rivals at the Australian Open by knocking out Russian fifth seed Elena Dementieva 7-5 7-6 in the second round Wednesday.
In a pulsating, high-quality contest, 2004 champion Henin withstood Dementieva's baseline onslaught early, then sealed the match under enormous pressure in the second set to claim her biggest scalp since coming back from retirement after 18 months out of the game.
"I couldn't believe I would relive these kind of emotions," the seven-times grand slam champion said in a courtside interview.
"It's only positive things ... The tournament is not over."
Henin, who made the final of her first tournament back at the Brisbane International earlier this month, will face another Russian in the third round, 27th seed Alisa Kleybanova.
Just before the Australian grand slam, the Belgian said she was looking forward to tough matches to gauge her level against the world's best and Dementieva delivered.
The Russian, a semi-finalist here last year and still chasing her maiden grand slam, reeled in Henin twice in the first set when the Belgian threatened to break away.
But the pressure told on Dementieva, who blew set points when serving at 5-4, and collapsed with unforced errors to allow Henin to take the set.
The cat-and-mouse contest continued in the second, with Henin chasing Dementieva and herself suffering an attack of nerves when serving for the match at 5-4.
Under enormous pressure, Dementieva ripped two clean winners to break back and scrape into a tiebreaker.
More drama was to follow as Henin double faulted, then hit long to hand Dementieva a set point, but the Russian wasted it before seemingly suffering a brain failure.
Needing to rally to stay in the game, she gambled with a drop shot from near the back of the baseline which found the net to gift match point.
Henin pounced with a volley to seal the match and screamed in triumph amid thunderous cheers at Rod Laver Arena.
"It is disappointing ... I feel like I gave her the opportunity to play well," said a downcast Dementieva, whose closest tilt at a grand slam was six years ago with finals at the 2004 French and U.S. Opens.
"I think she was playing very well ... It just doesn't feel like she was having a break."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)