Belgium has this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie against Estonia by the scruff of the neck after wins for both Kim Clijsters and Yanina Wickmayer, but it may have come at a cost.
Clijsters left the Ethias Arena in Hasselt shortly after defeating Maret Ani 64 62 in the opening singles rubber, to have an x-ray on her left foot. The US Open champion seemed troubled after the fifth game of the second set, and required treatment during the change of ends.
She said: “I was pushing off back to the middle and just felt something crack.”
Scans showed nothing more than bruising, and a decision will be made on Sunday morning whether to risk her in the reverse singles rubbers.
With Justine Henin nursing a broken finger, Belgium captain Sabine Appelmans laughed when it was suggested she dust down her racquet in case she was needed: “Unfortunately, I’m not a registered player.”
Appelmans went on: “We have options. Kirsten Flipkens is playing very well at the moment, and is 100 per cent fit, but Kim will hopefully have a good night’s rest, and be able to play.”
Ani happy with her performance
Despite the pain from her foot injury, in the end, victory was relatively comfortable for Clijsters. But, for a player ranked outside the world’s Top 200, Ani certainly made her more accomplished opponent work at times – certainly in the first set.
Indeed, Ani shocked the former world No. 1 in the opening game, by breaking the Belgian’s serve. That only served to sting Clijsters, who raced into a 4-1 lead, only for Ani to win three in a row to level at 4-4.
Too many unforced errors were costing Ani, though the worried brows were Belgian’s after Clijsters called for the physio. Not keen on testing out the foot too much, Clijsters – leading 3-2 – promptly won the next four games to take the match 64 62.
Afterwards she said: “I was definitely trying to keep the rallies short and going for my shots a little bit more. I really wasn’t capable of putting a lot of pressure on my left foot.”
For Ani, defeat was not too hard to swallow. The Estonian admitted: “I didn’t expect to win, but I think I played quite a good match, especially in the first set. I had a couple of chances in that first set, and maybe should have done things a little bit different on a few points.”
The 28-year-old also paid tribute to the small band of Estonian fans, who at times were louder than the locals: “They travelled here by car. It’s a long way to come, and for a small country like Estonia, it’s great to see them getting behind us.”
Wickmayer plays an “unbelievable match”
In the second singles rubber, Wickmayer was taken to three sets by Kaia Kanepi – a player who had beaten the Belgian in their two previous meetings.
A late replacement for the injured Justine Henin, 20-year-old Wickmayer duly took the first set 62, and appeared set for an early finish. Kanepi, though, is a gutsy player and rallied in the second set, taking it 64.
Backed by a decent sized crowd, Wickmayer showed her class in the deciding set, racing into a 4-0 lead. From that point, victory was assured.
“I just grew in the third set”, Wickmayer said. “I was stronger and concentrated more, and that made the difference.”
Wickmayer’s victory, 62 46 61, brought special praise from team captain Appelmans: “Yanina played an unbelievable match. We knew it was going to be tough. But she was fired up, playing in front of a home crowd, and played great tennis.”
And Appelmans insisted that Belgium will not be letting up in their pursuit of victory on Sunday: “Things happen on the court. Players can get injured, so we want to get to three points as quickly as possible.”