Melbourne: Kim Clijsters was courage personified as the defending champion shook off a painful ankle injury and saved four match points to overhaul China's Li Na 4-6 7-6 6-4 and reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday.
The big-hearted Belgian rolled her left ankle at 3-3 in the first set on a scorching day at Rod Laver Arena but rejoined the battle after a lengthy medical time-out with her foot thickly taped.
In a re-match of last year's finalists, champion Clijsters stared at the abyss when 6-2 down in the second set tiebreak but reeled off six points in a row to take the set and spark a rapturous ovation from the stands.
The hard-hitting Li slumped to 4-0 down in the decider then recovered gallantly to trail 5-4 but Clijsters held to close out the match and keep her hopes alive of a fifth grand slam title in her farewell year on tour.
Clijsters next plays the winner of top seed Caroline Wozniacki and former world number one Jelena Jankovic.
Nadal has it easy
Rafa Nadal blew hot and cold against fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez but emerged a comfortable 6-4 6-4 6-2 winner under a blistering sun to become the first man into the Australian Open quarter-finals.
The world number two Nadal, coming off three lop-sided victories, encountered much stiffer resistance from his Davis Cup team mate, a fellow left-hander whose chipping and charging to the net had the Mallorcan repeatedly on the back-foot at Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal came to Melbourne Park under an injury cloud and had his left foot strapped by a physiotherapist early in the first set but moved nimbly enough to wear 30-year-old Lopez in the heat and seal the match in less than two and a half hours.
Nadal, the 2009 winner, advanced to his sixth consecutive quarter-final at Melbourne Park, where he will face either Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych or another Spaniard in Nicolas Almagro.
Victoria Azarenka whipped through her match against Iveta Benesova to become the first player to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals.
The Belarussian took 77 minutes to dismantle her unseeded Czech opponent 6-2 6-2 in bright sunshine on Rod Laver Arena and set up a clash against Agnieszka Radwanska or Julia Goerges.
Azarenka, a semi-finallist at Wimbledon last year, faced serious resistance only in the last two games - when Benesova fought off four match points - and sealed victory with a crunching forehand winner.
The 22-year-old won the title over a strong field at the Sydney warm-up event last week and has stormed through the first week at Melbourne Park with four emphatic victories.
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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2012 13:14:18 IST