Belgium’s Fed Cup captain, Sabine Appelmans, has named a full strength team of Kim Clijsters, Yanina Wickmayer, Justine Henin and Kirsten Flipkens to meet Estonia at Hasselt’s Ethias Arena.
Belgium and Estonia are facing off in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-offs on 24-25 April, with the winner gaining a place in next year’s top tier.
Clijsters and Henin, who have both recently enjoyed successful comebacks from retirement, will be making their first Fed Cup appearances in nearly four years.
The two former world No. 1’s spearheaded their nation to its only ever Fed Cup title in 2001, when Belgium defeated Russia 2-1 in the Final. The team also reached the Final in 2006, but an injury to Clijsters left the door open for Italy to be crowned champion for the first time.
Clijsters and Henin are currently ranked No. 10 and No. 23 respectively in the world standings, and have accumulated 78 career singles titles between them, including nine Grand Slam wins.
Wickmayer form provides selection headache
Wickmayer and Flipkens, meanwhile, have formed the foundation of Belgium’s team in recent times, helping the side to maintain its place in World Group II with play-off victories in 2008 and 2009.
Wickmayer, in particular, has produced some tie-winning performances for the Belgians. None more so than in this year’s World Group II first round, when the world No. 13 saved match points before defeating Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland’s top player.
Wickmayer’s display against the Poles, which saw her win both singles rubbers as Belgium triumphed 3-2, will force Appelmans to make a difficult selection decision ahead of the Estonia showdown. It’s quite a nice problem to have, mind you.
Estonia hoping for upset
Despite naming an all-star line-up, Belgium will be taking nothing for granted when the action gets under way, as Estonia, having claimed a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Argentina in February, won’t be coming just to make the numbers up.
“Fed Cup is probably the most unpredictable sporting event, so much can happen,” said Clijsters, who marked her return to the game last summer by winning the US Open title for the second time.
“Estonia don’t have the big names, but you never know, because of the whole atmosphere players who are ranked a lot lower can really get fired up and produce some good tennis. You have to be very cautious and that’s where the team effort comes in.”
Rene Busch, the Estonian captain, has also been able to nominate her top four players, with the familiar quartet of Kaia Kanepi, Maret Ani, Anett Schutting and Margit Ruutel teaming up for the tenth consecutive tie. During this period, which dates back to the start of 2008, Estonia has enjoyed a remarkable run, achieving two promotions and remaining unbeaten.
The deadline for official player nominations is on Wednesday, when all the nations competing in the World Group semifinals and play-offs, and World Group II play-offs will announce their teams.