An injury sustained in training has ruled Justine Henin out of the singles rubbers against Estonia in Hasselt, as hot-favourites Belgium seek a return to Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group.
The former world No. 1 is nursing a broken little finger on her left hand, which occurred during practice on Wednesday.
Belgium captain, Sabine Appelmans, explained how it happened: “She was at the net and the ball came over. She didn’t know whether to volley it. Instead, she took it with her hand and broke her finger.”
The full extent of the injury was not known until Friday morning, just hours before the draw. Initially, it was simply felt that Henin had bruised the digit, but x-rays revealed more serious damage.
As a result, Henin will play no part in Saturday’s singles rubbers. Her place has been taken by Yanina Wickmayer, who tackles Kaia Kanepi in the second match. Kim Clijsters will open proceedings on the clay surface against Maret Ani.
“I’m very excited,” admitted Clijsters. "I always enjoy playing that first match. You don’t have the nerves from watching your friends play before you, and so hopefully I can get the win and the first point.”
Many expect a convincing Belgian victory over the weekend, but Wickmayer is wary of the threat posed by Kanepi, who has beaten her in both their previous meetings.
Wickmayer said: “It wasn’t the best period of my career. I wasn’t feeling well, or playing well. Kanepi is a good player, who has been ranked a lot higher than she is now.”
Those defeats came in 2008, in South Korea and Japan, but Wickmayer is a different player than two years ago and will be confident of avenging those defeats when she takes to the court on Saturday.
Kanepi, on the other hand, is no stranger to Hasselt. She took Clijsters to three sets in the final of a hard-court event in the Belgian town four years ago. The Estonian player is also adept on the clay courts. In 2008, she made it to the last eight of the French Open and became the first Estonian to reach the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam.
Though many expect a Belgium win, the host’s captain Appelmans is taking nothing for granted. Estonia will go into Saturday’s opening rubber eager to extend its winning streak to ten ties, and reach the World Group for the first time in its history.
Getting to this level of Fed Cup has been nothing short of miraculous. Indeed, even reaching Hasselt itself has been some feat!
Estonia’s epic journey
Because of the disruption to air travel, due to the volcanic ash over much of northern Europe, the Estonia captain, Rene Busch, opted to use every other means of transport available to him.
The team set off on Monday evening, with Busch driving the team. En route, they took an overnight ferry to Sweden, drove through Sweden, took a ferry to Denmark, drove through Denmark and took a ferry to Germany. They then drove 600km through Germany, which involved an overnight stop in Hamburg, before finally arriving in Belgium.
Busch smiled as he told the tale: “It was enjoyable for me, and for the girls. In fact, it was a tactic of mine, as the journey helped bring the team together. The journey will not be used as an excuse. We are here. We are ready.”
Busch added: “In soccer terms, this is like Estonia tackling Brazil in the World Cup final. When I started as captain of Estonia three years ago, it was my dream to one day play in front of a big crowd, against a big team.”
Sunday’s reverse singles rubbers will see Clijsters face Kanepi and Wickmayer meet Ani. The doubles will bring together Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens and Justine Henin, against Kanepi and Ani.
The full draw for the weekend is as follows:
Kim Clijsters (BEL) v Maret Ani (EST)
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Kaia Kanepi (EST)
Kim Clijsters (BEL) v Kaia Kanepi (EST)
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Maret Ani (EST)
Kirsten Flipkens/Justine Henin (BEL) v Maret Ani/Kaia Kanepi (EST)