ANTWERP, BELGIUM: Kim Clijsters and Yanina Wickmayer have put Belgium within striking distance of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinals after emphatic performances on the first day’s play in Antwerp.
Watched by a crowd of 11,700 in the Sports Palace, they took it in turns to delight the home fans, Wickmayer beating Bethanie Mattek-Sands 61 76(6) and Clijsters then defeating Melanie Oudin 60 64.
Runners-up for the last two years, USA were banking on Mattek-Sands using her aggressive style of play to get the better of Wickmayer and give them a winning start.
But the tall Belgian is a steely competitor and, very focused from the outset, used greater power and precision to put her opponent on the back foot, the American team’s No.1 also making a number of unforced errors mainly with her backhand.
Yet Mattek-Sands, who had pushed Wickmayer close in both of their previous encounters, did rally in the second set, twice coming back from a break down. Leading 5-4 she moved to set point, only for the Belgian to save it with another strong serve and then hold.
In the tiebreak, Mattek-Sands again threatened to level when she went 5-2 up, but Wickmayer drew on the loud home support and fought back to lead it 6-5 for her first match point.
The American then produced a sublime serve and half volley winner to save that, but she netted her volley on the next point and Wickmayer clinch the tiebreak 8-6 with a lucky net cord on her second match point.
“I played really aggressive in the beginning,” said Wickmayer. “I knew I had to put a lot of pressure on her because when she has time to play her game she’s a really good player. The crowd was amazing today, it helped me a lot especially in the tiebreaker… playing at home is a big advantage.”
Clijsters then made her heroic return to this country a week after her Australian Open triumph with a champion’s display against Oudin. The 19 year-old had dreamt of playing her idol and was somewhat overwhelmed at the start, winning just two points in the first four games and only seven in the whole of the first set.
Trailing 2-0 in the second set Oudin must have feared a first career double bagel. But having at last got a game on the board she then competed admirably, won three games in a row and gave Clijsters rather more to think about.
Having said that it wasn’t too long before Clijsters had created another break and to the delight of her hordes of admirers, Belgium’s best duly served out the match with her third ace.
“It was fun to be out here playing again,” said Clijsters. “Obviously it’s nice to come here and play here after a win ‘cos the people have been so supportive. I’ve kept them up during the night with the time change with Australia and it’s nice to be back here, but I do look forward to having a few days off.”
Before she does she must at least face Mattek-Sands in Sunday’s first reverse singles, with Wickmayer then due to take on Oudin. But the chances of that latter encounter and an ensuing doubles being ‘live’ rubbers seem very slim indeed.
Watch this tie live on: FedCup.tv