Toronto, Canada – By Julian Linden
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The fairytale continues for Justine Henin. Through to the semi-finals of the Australian Open, the Belgian's dream of winning the championship is edging closer to reality.
So too for Zheng Jie, the first Chinese to make the semis in Australia, and Croatia's Marin Cilic, who showed he has an iron will to match his giant frame as he defeated Andy Roddick in five exhausting sets on Tuesday.
Henin booked her place in the last four with a 7-6 7-5 win over Russia's Nadia Petrova on the Rod Laver Arena. As the scoreline suggests, it was a tight match but Henin remains an expert at finding a way to win the close ones.
The former world number one is playing only her second tournament since coming out of retirement and her victory was another triumph for her golden generation. But her next opponent represents the changing face of women's tennis.
Zheng defeated Russia's Maria Kirilenko 6-1 6-3 to raise hopes of a first Chinese champion at a grand slam.
It is not the first time Zheng has broken new ground for the world's most populous nation. Four years ago, she teamed up with Yan Zi to win the women's doubles in Australia.
Then in 2008, she became the first Chinese to make the semi-finals at a grand slam when she reached the last four at Wimbledon after the All England Club gave her a wildcard.
"I feel a bit calmer than the last time I made a semi-final," said Zheng. "Now, I feel like whoever makes the last four has a chance of winning it."
Zheng did not need an invitation to get into Melbourne this time although her world ranking of 35 was not enough to get her a seeding and her early matches gave little indication of what was to come.
She lost the opening set of her first match to love against compatriot Peng Shuai, then the first set of her next two matches, but has been steadily building confidence.
Zheng had no major problems beating Kirilenko, who was appearing in her first grand slam quarter-final and was struggling with a leg injury. She tormented the Russian with her powerful ground strokes and speed around the court.
Zheng is now one of two Chinese left in the women's draw. Li Na also made the quarter-finals and plays Venus Williams on Wednesday, raising the once unthinkable possibility of an all-Chinese final.
Henin was partly inspired to return to the tour while watching Clijsters win last year's U.S. Open shortly after her return. Henin needed a wildcard for Melbourne but never gave any serious thought to winning the championship, until now.
"I was curious about what was going to happen," she said. "I knew it was going to be hard. Every match was a goal.
"I never thought, I'll be in the semis.
"Now I can dream of being in the final of this grand slam, of course, but it's still a long way.
"I just have to try to be focused on what I have to do on the court and hope it's gonna keep going this way."
Cilic became the first Croatian to reach the semi-finals at Melbourne Park when he somehow summoned up the energy to wear down Roddick 7-6 6-3 3-6 2-6 6-3 after the American threatened to complete a stunning comeback.
Cilic had already won two five-set matches last week, including one against U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round, and has now spent more than 18 hours on court.
His next opponent will be either the defending champion Rafa Nadal or Andy Murray, who were playing in Tuesday's feature night-match.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)