Belgium will be back in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group next year, for the first time since 2007, after defeating a spirited Estonia 3-2 in Hasselt.
But victory for the 2001 champions came at a price, with both Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin collecting injuries. For Clijsters, the decision to return to Fed Cup tennis after a four year absence may have cost her a place at next month’s French Open.
The French Open begins on 24 May, and the former world No. 1 is facing up to six weeks on the sidelines. This follows an MRI scan on Sunday, which showed a muscle rupture in her left foot.
Clijsters picked up the injury during her singles rubber against Maret Ani on Saturday. Initial x-rays found no sign of a fracture, but an MRI scan highlighted the root cause of her discomfort.
“We saw a lot of fluids around the muscle, and the doctor said it had a small rupture in it,” said Sam Verslegars, Clijsters’ physio.
Thankfully, there is no long-term damage, and the recovery time has been put at a maximum of six weeks, but Verslegars has warned against rushing back.
“We’re going to try and recover properly, which means not trying to speed things up, because if her injury gets chronic, then we’ve got a real problem. We’ll go easy with the rehab and then see how long it takes.”
Fortunately for Clijsters, after sustaining the injury, she needed just three more games to wrap up the win against Ani. Verslegars suggested that the US Open champion may have struggled to complete the match had it gone into a third set.
Henin soldiers on, Kanepi inspired
Henin – herself nursing a broken finger on her left hand – replaced Clijsters in Sunday’s opening singles rubber. Clearly not feeling 100 per cent, she was overpowered by Kaia Kanepi in three sets.
Hopes were high for Henin, after she grittily won the first set on the tie-break. Kanepi was erratic, and let slip three set points in the 12th game.
It threatened to be a similar tale for the Estonian girl in the second set. She had break points on three of Henin’s first four service games, and failed to capitalise. She finally broke in the ninth game, but it was the same story when at set point. Four went begging, before she made sure at the fifth time of asking.
Henin appeared to flag in the decider, being broken in the first game. A second break of serve, settled the set and the match, with Kanepi winning 67(6) 64 63.
The Belgian, who made 47 unforced errors, admitted afterwards: “All the things that happened this week, including my injury, Kim’s injury – I’ve not had the best preparation.”
An honest Henin went on: “It’s been a difficult week, and I thought I could go on. I just tried to take my chances, but it wasn’t good enough today.”
Wickmayer ends Estonian hopes
Kanepi’s tremendous triumph certainly had the desired effect on her team-mate, as Maret Ani took the first set off Yanina Wickmayer 62, in the tie’s fourth singles rubber.
All thoughts of the precious place in the World Group being decided by the doubles were dashed, though, as Wickmayer reacted with ruthless efficiency, winning in three sets, 26 61 61.
Henin was rested for the dead doubles rubber, allowing Wickmayer to team up with Kirsten Flipkens for her third game of a long weekend. And, for the third successive rubber, three sets were needed to determine the winner. The pairing of Wickmayer and Flipkens succumbed to Maret Ani and Margit Ruutel 26 64 63, as Belgium won the tie 3-2.
So, after a bruising weekend, our thoughts are with Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin – Belgium’s walking wounded. Also, spare a thought for Anett Schutting, the only one of the Estonian team not to play a rubber.
Estonia’s Fed Cup team travelled through Sweden, Denmark and Germany to reach Belgium – over land and sea. Sat in a team bus for the best part of two days, poor Schutting has spent the last three days sat on the team bench, showing true team spirit.