Clijsters, Li into 3rd round at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Defending champion Kim Clijsters cruised into the third round of the Australian Open and then showed just how much support she has at Rod Laver Arena by getting the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her younger sister.

Clijsters only needed 47 minutes to beat Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France 6-0, 6-1 on Wednesday, conceding just 10 points in the first set and showing no signs of a hip problem that forced her to retire during a semifinal against Daniela Hantuchova at a warmup tournament two weeks ago.

She will meet Hantuchova in the next round here, and has a potential rematch of the 2011 Australian Open final with Li Na in the fourth.

Roger Federer, who has won four of his 16 Grand Slam titles in Australia, got a walkover into the third round when Andreas Beck of Germany withdrew from their scheduled Hisense Arena match due to a lower back injury. It deprived Federer of a different view at Melbourne Park, where he has played every match in Rod Laver Arena since the third round of the 2004 Australian Open. He’ll meet either Ivo Karlovic of Croatia or Carlos Berlocq of Argentina in the next round.

Eighth-ranked Mardy Fish became the first top 10 player on the men’s side to lose, falling 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (6) to Colombia’s Alejandro Falla.

Serena Williams defeated Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-2 to claim her 15th consecutive match at Melbourne Park. Williams won the Australian Open in 2009 and 2010 but was injured last year. (Associated Press)

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Serena Williams defeated Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-2 to claim her 15th consecutive ... more >

No. 7 Tomas Berdych advanced 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 (4) over Olivier Rochus of Belgium and Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany was leading 6-0, 4-0 when Spain’s Pere Riba retired with an injured left foot.

Taiwan’s Yen-hsun Lu beat French qualifier Florent Serra in straight sets and No. 30 Kevin Anderson of South Africa beat Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Clijsters and No. 20 Hantuchova, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Lesia Tsurenko, have been playing each other for years.

“When the injury happened, it happened against Daniela,” Clijsters said of the hip muscle spasms she had at the Brisbane International. “She’s been playing well this season so far.

“We both go back a long way — we grew up playing under-14s together. Now almost 30 — still battling it out.”

This was Clijsters best run at a major since the last Australian Open — she lost in the second round at the French Open and didn’t play Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Li is also returning to form, going further than she has a Grand Slam tournament since her breakthrough win at the French Open. She next plays No. 26 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, who beat Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-1, 6-0.

Li said she loved being back on Rod Laver Arena, where she burst onto the global tennis scene last year, while Clijsters still clearly feels at home on a court where she’s still known as “Aussie Kim” long after her relationship with Lleyton Hewitt ended.

In a post-match TV interview, she asked presenter Rennae Stubbs a favor, saying her brother-in-law phoned her from Belgium to ask if she could convince the crowd to sing a birthday song for Elke, Clijsters‘ younger sister.

The crowd obliged, after Clijsters kicked it off.

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