| Sebastien Grosjean of France drops to his knees after beating Felix Mantilla of Spain in Melbourne Sunday. Grosjean won 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. (AFP)
Melbourne: Fighting back tears, Justine Henin-Hardenne endured agonising cramps to complete an epic three-hour, 13-minute victory over Lindsay Davenport and reach the Australian Open quarter finals on Sunday.
“I thought I was going to die but I played with my heart,” the fifth-seeded Belgian told the crowd, her eyes glistening as she winced in pain following her 7-5, 5-7, 9-7 win.
“I thought the match was over for me but I wanted to give everything I had,” she said as the Melbourne Park fans rose to give her a standing ovation.
Men’s second seed Andre Agassi had no need to give his all, spending just 48 minutes in the stifling Melbourne heat before his opponent Guillermo Coria quit their last-16 match with a right foot injury.
Agassi had been leading 6-1, 3-1 when the Argentine succumbed.
“It’s not the best way for it to go, I would have liked more of a match but I guess I’ve got to count my blessings because I am still in the tournament,” he said.
Agassi will meet 12th seed Sebastien Grosjean for a place in the semis after the Frenchman staged a mighty comeback to beat Spain’s Felix Mantilla 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
The three-hour, 37-minute victory will have gone some way to expunging Grosjean’s nightmare of 2001 here when, in the semi-finals, he blew a two-set lead against friend Arnaud Clement to miss out on a spot in his first Grand Slam final.
Mantilla had won each of his three previous matches in five sets, including a third-round win over French Open champion Albert Costa, but finally ran out of puff against his younger French opponent.
The Spaniard twice fought back from a break down in the fifth set but was unable to mount another recovery after dropping service for a third time as 24-year-old Grosjean served it out.
Blinking back tears
Henin-Hardenne had lost all her five previous meetings with Davenport, but broke the run in most dramatic fashion Sunday. She received treatment from a tournament trainer on three occasions during the see-saw match, once for a blister and twice for severe cramp after she collapsed while serving at 7-7.
Hobbling and blinking back tears, she was massaged and bathed in ice packs before somehow continuing to record a breakthrough victory.
Henin-Hardenne will now have 24 hours’ rest before meeting the unseeded Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain for a place in the semi-finals.
Venus Williams had a far easier time earlier when she moved a step closer to a maiden Australian Open title, ending home hopes at the first Grand Slam of the year by beating a brave Nicole Pratt 6-3, 6-2 to reach the quarter finals.
The second seed and her younger, top-seeded sister Serena are both still in the running for the only Grand Slam title to have eluded the family.
Venus was champion of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2000 and 2001 while Serena is the current holder of the Wimbledon, French and US Open crowns.
Venus must next get past seventh seed Daniela Hantuchova after the popular Slovak ousted 12th-seeded Swiss Patty Schnyder 7-5, 6-3. Serena is due to play her fourth round match against Greek Eleni Daniilidou on Monday.
Venus was not at her best on centre court but proved too tough for 54th-ranked Pratt.
“She’s a really good competitor and I expected a tough match. It was great to take another step towards possibly being the victor at this tournament,” the American told newsmen.
Pratt said there were times when all she could do was shake her head and smile.
“Just too good, sometimes,” she smiled. “You know... you’ve just got to take your hat off to her and say ‘that’s too good’.”
Venus is looking towards her clash with Hantuchova, a repetition of last year’s third round here which the American narrowly won in three sets.
“She will be motivated to get a win against me. We have played a handful of times and she hasn’t been able to be the victor yet,” she said.
Hantuchova, who lifted her game at key moments to see off the challenge of Schnyder, is ready for revenge. “I was really, really close to beating her last year,” the willowy 19-year-old said.
“Maybe I needed more experience at the time. That’s something I feel I’ve got now and that’s why I feel optimistic and ready about this match.”
In men’s action, fourth-seeded Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero wasted no time in reaching the quarters, thrashing Mario Ancic of Croatia 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.
He next faces veteran South African Wayne Ferreira who ousted Armenia’s Sargis Sargsian 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.