By Stuart Fraser in Koksijde
A familiar face was spotted at the Tennisclub Koksijde today as former world No. 1 and Belgian tennis legend Kim Clijsters turned up to watch her country take on Poland.
Clijsters, who is expecting a second child in September with former American professional basketball player Brian Lynch, made the two hour and 30 minute journey from her hometown of Bree and arrived just in time to see Kirsten Flipkens beat Urszula Radwanska to level the tie at 1-1.
Flipkens is now at a career-high ranking of No. 22 after Clijsters agreed to come on board to assist her with her tennis last year. The 27-year-old was struggling with injury and finance, but has turned things around thanks to the support of her former Fed Cup teammate. She also has a new sponsor, Jean-Pierre Heynderick of Koddaert nv.
Flipkens was delighted that she could repay Clijsters and Heynderick with a win for her country.
Flipkens said: “I knew Kim was coming. She came with Jean-Pierre and I really appreciated it because these two people have been there for me in the rough times and it is nice that I can play a good match in front of them.
“Kim texted me after. It’s normal when you are in Belgium that you get a lot of attention if you come to watch a match like this, so she came here just to watch my match and left immediately after. But I appreciate it a lot that she was here.”
By Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires
Islands, what islands? There is no Falklands/Malvinas issue at Parque Roca where Great Britain are playing a Fed Cup World Group II play-off against Argentina.
It won’t raise its ugly head at rugby grounds either when England tour Argentina in June and play two test matches against the Pumas.
There is a friendly rivalry between the two sets of fans, Argentina’s noisy “hinchada loca” with their drums and trumpets and a small group of British supporters with horns and cymbals on the opposite side of the stadium.
“The (home) crowd was very intense…it’s nice to see how behind their players the crowd get,” said Johanna Konta, who made her singles debut in the opening rubber against Argentine No. 1 Paula Ormaechea.
Judy Murray, Britain’s Fed Cup captain and, yes, we have to mention that she’s Andy Murray’s mum, gave an amusing and very well received speech at the Fed Cup dinner. Recalling that when a journalist asked her what she knew about Argentina, she said: “Great steaks, good wine, what’s not to love about that.”
When the journalist insisted he was asking about the players, she said: “Diego Maradona, Luciana Aymar, Juan Martin del Potro” to more laughs.
Of Argentina’s captain Bettina Fulco, she said, “She’s the Eva Peron of Argentine tennis.”
“I always tell my players it’s very important to be the best looking team and (turning to Argentina’s team) I think tonight, Paula, Florencia, Maria and Mailen, you have come a very, very close second.”
Introducing her team, she called Elena Baltacha her David Nalbandian, as loyal to Fed Cup tennis as the Argentine has been to the Davis Cup.
“Johanna Konta is my Juan Martin del Potro, she has the biggest crush on Del Potro,” she added to much hilarity on the English team’s table.
“Anne Keothavong is my Juan Monaco, a party girl… My number one, the gorgeous Laura Robson, is my Horacio Zeballos, left-handed, very tall and also very, very naughty.”
“So far, we’ve had a wonderful time in Buenos Aires, and the Parque Roca looks fantastic.”
She ended her message of friendship by saying in Spanish: “I hope we have a good Fed Cup series… and at the end of the weekend I very much hope I won’t be singing ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’.”
By Sue Chester in Stuttgart
International tennis players traveling the world get to sample local cuisine and Germany’s Stuttgart region is in ‘Swabia’ where food is hearty, substantial fare mostly covered in sauce - or broth - earning Swabians the title of “wet eaters” (nass-esser).
Maultaschen (an oversized meat-filled ravioli in broth) and spätzle (the German answer to pasta) are staples. Swabians became even prouder of their maultaschen when the European Union recognised the meal as a "regional specialty" in 2009, sighting it as significant to the cultural heritage of the state of Baden-Württemberg.
As for the players in the Germany-Serbia tie, they’ve all got their food preferences. Of the visiting Serbs, Bojana Jovanovski has encountered maultaschen and has already done her duty to uphold BW’s cultural liebling, “We had that in the hotel for lunch a couple of days ago. I tried it, it’s very tasty.”
Serbian coach Dejan Vranes has other favorites, “I love the home-made sausages, some hotels have it for breakfast. Also the bread and the beer is perfect,” then his eyes light up as he remembers rostbraten, also a Swabian favourite that involves slices of beef with lashings of fried onions in a red wine and cream sauce, “I like all German food including rostbraten … and pork with horseradish.”
Germany coach Barbara Rittner loves maultaschen and käsespätzle (spätzle in a cheesy sauce), the cheesy carb-fest also a favourite of Anna Lena Groenefeld, whilst Sabine Lisicki has to take a wide berth on both dishes as she’s on a gluten free diet and Mona Barthel isn’t familiar with Swabian grub as she’s from the Danish border.
Ana Ivanovic says her savoury tooth means she loves sushi or, “Maybe a pizza or burger if I want to indulge, rather than something sweet. As for German food, I like sauerkraut, but we also have that at home. And sometimes I like the sausages, but not all of them and I’m not a beer drinker.”
Her team compatriots are beer fans; coach Dejan ‘loves’ German brews as does Aleksandra Krunic, “You know I’m not sure about this German food actually, but I heard here there’s going to be a beer fest on Sunday? So I’m going to use my chance to go. I think I’m going to have some beer as I love beer. And sausages, for sure!”
Ice & Clay Mix
By Russell Fuller in Moscow
The European Gymnastics Championships have pulled rank on the Fed Cup here in Moscow this weekend and taken over the Olympic Stadium, which is Russia's usual choice of venue for home ties.
So, they’ve had to improvise by building an indoor clay court on Russia's premier speed skating track. And it looks as if they have done a good job as there's currently no sign that the court is in danger of sliding away. The 400 metre track opened here at the Krylatskoye Sports Centre in 2004, just in time to see the German Anni Friesinger and the American Shani Davis crowned world champions in February of the following year.
Russian skaters used to train at altitude on a very fast track - but that became the property of Kazakhstan after the break-up of the Soviet Union. So, a new venue was much overdue, and it has the added advantage of doubling up as a bandy arena.
Readers in Russia and Sweden will need little introduction, but for the benefit of the rest of us, it's a bit like ice hockey with a tennis ball, and a larger pitch and goal. They don't even give the goalkeeper a stick, and you spend five minutes in the sin bin if you head the ball. But it looks fun, and the venue hosted the 2010 World Championships. I don't wish to intrude on private grief, but for the record, Sweden beat Russia 6-5 in the final. After extra time.
Sunny skies over Kiev
By Ravi Ubha in Kiev
The winter in England was a long one, capped by frigid temperatures – relatively speaking – in March. So when Kiev brought sunny skies and a high of roughly 20 degrees Celsius on Thursday when I was traveling to cover the Canadian-Ukraine Fed Cup tie, the pilot with a British accent on our flight emanating from London said something to the effect of, “summer is here.”
He was not wrong. Friday produced more glorious sunshine in the Ukrainian capital and a similar temperature. No complaints about Saturday, either. Simply lovely.
But the residents of Great Britain weren’t the only ones dealing with unusual weather last month. In fact, in comparison to what happened in Kiev, most would agree we had it good.
Kiev, population three-million, was paralyzed for days and a state of emergency declared when about 50 centimetres of snow fell in one day at the end of March. That’s more than what Kiev usually gets in all of March. Even for a city used to getting its fair share of snow, it was quite the nasty surprise.
The government needed to bring in military vehicles to help with the clean-up.
When I raised the issue of the blizzard with a receptionist at our hotel, she smiled and said: “Look at the weather now. It’s so nice. Last month,” she continued, “there was a big pile of snow in front of the hotel.”
No snow is on the horizon. Let the delightful days continue.
Arruabarrena: one to watch for the future
By Eloise Horsfield in Barcelona
Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena should have been given a chance to shine at this week’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie against Japan in Barcelona – but alas, it was not to be.
Fresh from winning the Katowice Open doubles title last Sunday alongside Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino, Arruabarrena would have been great to have around on Sunday if the tie goes to a fifth rubber this weekend.
But on Thursday, 21-year-old Arruabarrena was ordered by doctors to take three weeks’ rest after being struck down by glandular fever.
“We all feel pretty sad that Lara has this problem,” said Spain’s captain Conchita Martinez, a former Fed Cup champion. “Glandular fever is quite serious. But she’s in pretty good spirits, she’s young and she’s always smiling and is very, very positive.”
Martinez explained Arruabarrena will be very much part of this weekend’s tie despite her virus.
“Even though she’s not able to play, she needs to experience it for the future because she is one of the players that is going to be the future of the Spanish team,” she said on Friday.
The 21-year-old tweeted on Thursday: “Because of a virus that has been dragging me down for a while now I have to rest awhile, but I’ll be there cheering on the Fed Cup girls.”
And cheering on the Fed Cup girls she was, spotted in good spirits around the Real Club de Polo on Saturday morning, donning her Spain kit and later cheering on her teammates Carla Suarez Navarro and Silvia Soler-Espinosa.