MELBOURNE, January 22- Justine Henin performed a great escape act Friday to keep her Australian Open dream alive as she joined Dinara Safina in last 16, but Jelena Jankovic's tournament ended.
The diminutive Belgian, the 2004 champion at Melbourne Park, was staring at defeat after losing the first set and falling 3-1 behind in the second to big-serving Russian 27th seed Alisa Kleybanova.
But she drew on all her experience as a seven-time Grand Slam champion to claw back, taking the second set and rattling through the third for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory in a gripping two hour 20 minute contest.
Following her defeat of fifth seed Elena Dementieva in the previous round, Henin’s battling win Friday proved once again she is still a threat despite playing in only her second tournament on her comeback from an 18-month retirement.
Henin will next play fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, the world number 16 who had to come through qualifying following a doping scandal.
Wickmayer beat Italy’s Sara Errani 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3.
Safina, the second seed, clocked a rapid-fire 57 minute 6-1, 6-2 thrashing of England’s Elena Baltacha in her first match on Rod Laver Arena since she imploded during last year’s final against Serena Williams.
The Russian took heart from a winning return at the scene of one of her worst days in tennis.
"I didn’t have good memories of the last match I played on Rod Laver Arena, for sure," said the world number two. "I am glad to be back and I had to fight hard and make sure I won to forget the bad memories.
"I think it was very solid match from my side. I’m pretty satisfied with everything I did."
Safina will next face Maria Kirilenko in the fourth round and after the fellow Russian outlasted Italy’s Roberta Vinci 7-5, 7-6 (7/4).
Safina appears in a favourable section of the draw with either Kim Clijsters, who plays later Friday, or Henin likely to be her semi-final opponent if she progresses that far.
While Safina and Henin powered on, Jankovic looked like a spent force as she was bundled out by 31st seed Alona Bondarenko, crashing 6-2, 6-3 in a miserable end to the tournament for a player ranked world number one this time last year.
She joins other high casulaties Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic on an early plane home.
The Serb struggled to live up to her potential in 2009 and her big-match credentials were again found wanting when she was comprehensively outplayed by the Ukrainian, who won the lead-up Hobart tournament.
But Jankovic wasn’t overly concerned.
"It’s no big deal, it’s only my second tournament of the year," she said.
"I just have to stay positive, keep my head up high. I know what I have to work on. I feel like my game is improving and I feel like I really can raise my level and be up there."
On the men’s side, second seed Rafael Nadal plays later Friday against 27th seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber, while fifth seeded Scot Andy Murray faces Frenchman Florent Serra.
Seventh seed Andy Roddick, who had a run-in with an umpire in his second round match, is up against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez.