WHEN Kim Clijsters sat in her chair here yesterday, tears rolling down her face as she received treatment after turning her ankle midway through the first set against Li Na, the Australian Open's defending champion looked likely to be defeated once again by the injuries that have dogged her career. That outcome looked even more likely when Li took the first set but Clijsters' resilience has improved markedly over the years and it was her Chinese opponent who made a tearful exit as the Belgian booked her place in the quarter-finals with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 win.
Clijsters arrived here, having played only two tournaments since last June, retiring from both mid-match after suffering injuries. The jinx appeared to have returned when she hurt her ankle but Clijsters took pain-killers and ignored the voices in her head that were telling her to retire. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old Belgian had to save four match points in the second set tie-break, after which she took command. Although Li, last year's beaten finalist, recovered from 4-0 down in the final set, Clijsters closed out the victory.
Clijsters said: "I knew if I could just try to let the medication sink in or if I could get through the first 20 minutes, half-hour, I think the pain would go away a little bit and then maybe with the adrenaline I could just fly through it. I did - and I'm happy that I didn't give up."
Caroline Wozniacki will be Clijsters' quarter-final opponent after the world No 1 beat Jelena Jankovic 6-0, 7-5. Wozniacki took the first set with plenty to spare and led 4-1 in the second before Jankovic broke back twice to level at 5-5. However, the Serb, who made 50 unforced errors, could not sustain her comeback and eventually lost after an hour and three-quarters.
"I was really happy about the way I played, especially in the first set and a half," Wozniacki said. "She had nothing to lose so she could just go for it. I knew she was a fighter and it wasn't going to be easy. I'm just happy to be here as the winner of the match."
The other quarter-final in the top half of the draw will see Victoria Azarenka take on Agnieszka Radwanska. Both had comfortable wins yesterday, Azarenka beating Iveta Benesova and Radwanska overcoming Julia Goerges, and both have yet to drop a set.