Toronto, Canada – By Julian Linden
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The fairytale continues for Justine Henin. The Belgian is through to the semi-finals of the Australian Open and her dream of winning the championship is suddenly getting closer to reality.
The former world number one booked her place in the last four with a 7-6 7-5 win over Russia's Nadia Petrova on Tuesday. As the scoreline suggests, it was a tight match but Henin remains the queen of winning the close ones.
Henin is playing only her second tournament since coming out of retirement and her win was another victory for her golden generation. But her next opponent represents the changing face of women's tennis.
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.
Zheng did not need a wildcard 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.
Henin was partly inspired to return to the circuit after watching Clijsters win last year's U.S. Open as a wildcard. She was also given 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."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)