- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2012

MELBOURNE, Australia — Down four match points and hobbling on her injured left ankle, defending champion Kim Clijsters rallied for a dramatic 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 win over Li Na at the Australian Open on Sunday.

Clijsters was in pain from the ankle she twisted in the seventh game. Li was just a bundle of nerves. The French Open champion failed to serve out the fourth-round match at 5-4 in the second set, but then led 6-2 in the tiebreaker. Again Clijsters refused to yield.

“I said in my mind, keep fighting,” Clijsters said. “You never know what happens on the other side of the court.”

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer stayed on course for a semifinal meeting in matches either side of Clijsters’s win at Rod Laver Arena. Federer ended the run of Australian teenager Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, and Nadal won in straight sets too, beating Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki ended the day’s play with a 6-0, 7-5 win over Jelena Jankovic and next will play Clijsters.

Li’s best chance to win the match - and gain revenge for her three-set loss to Clijsters in last year’s final - came on her fourth match point.

Clijsters played a poor drop shot, giving her opponent the chance to put the ball into the open court. Instead, Li tentatively hit the ball almost straight back to Clijsters, who sent up a perfect lob that dropped just inside the baseline.

“Of course I was nervous,” Li said. “If you’re nervous, you could not think too much, right?”

Clijsters won six straight points to take the tiebreaker and the first four games of the deciding set.

Clijsters then overcame a wobble of her own, losing her serve at 5-2 in the third set, before finally closing out the fourth-round match on her second match point.

Li broke down in tears at the end of her postmatch news conference.

“Maybe 6-2 up in the tiebreak I was a little bit shocking,” she said.

Clijsters was hurt in the first set while serving at 3-all and 30-all. As she hit a forehand, her left foot got stuck on the surface and the ankle twisted awkwardly.

She got up to finish the point but then immediately called for the trainer and had her ankle strapped.

Clijsters‘ movement was clearly slowed when she resumed but, playing in her last Australian Open before quitting tennis at the end of the season, she said she didn’t want to bow out in Melbourne with a retirement.

The injury seemed to affect Li just as much. The 29-year-old, who won last year’s French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title, looked increasingly stressed as the match progressed.

After 2 hours, 23 minutes, she netted a backhand to put Clijsters through to the quarterfinals. The Belgian said she was hopeful her ankle would hold up after ice treatment.

Federer hasn’t lost to a teenager since 2006, and that run continued Sunday as he disappointed the home crowd with a comprehensive win over Tomic, 19.

Tomic had beaten seeded players Fernando Verdasco and Alexandr Dolgopolov in earlier rounds, but Federer was a step up in class. The 16-time Grand Slam champion broke six times as he set up a quarterfinal against 11th-seeded Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.

Nadal was almost as convincing in his win over Lopez. The 2009 champion had his right knee heavily strapped and had his left ankle taped after three games of the first set but afterward said he was “fine.”

Nadal plays Tomas Berdych next, hoping to avoid a third straight quarterfinal loss in Melbourne. Defending the title in 2010, the Spaniard retired with a knee injury against Andy Murray. A year ago, he was hampered by a hamstring problem in a straight-sets loss to David Ferrer.

“Hopefully not happen this time,” Nadal said.

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