ANTWERP, BELGIUM: Far from resting on her laurels, the new Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters is about to play a starring role this weekend back home in Belgium in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie versus USA.
A week after her Melbourne Park triumph against Li Na, ‘Aussie Kim’ is due to lead her country in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp.
Clijsters, who tasted Fed Cup success a decade ago alongside Justine Henin, will be hoping to bring her great form to bear against an American team missing both of the Williams sisters, but one which still contains players who reached the last two finals.
On the opening day that means Clijsters will face 19-year-old Melanie Oudin for the first time after Yanina Wickmayer has opened the tie against the leading American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Having had no time to celebrate her most recent grand slam title, Clijsters is understandably dealing with some jetlag following her long trip back to Belgium.
But the world No. 2 insists she will be ready for the battles ahead this weekend with home advantage: “It’s nice to be back for Fed Cup, especially here in Antwerp we’re playing in the Sports Palace and I think for all of us it’s a very unique experience to be playing in this arena for the first time.”
Wickmayer made her Fed Cup debut against USA when these two countries last met in 2007. On that occasion the Americans prevailed 5-0 in Delray Beach, Florida, so she’s out for revenge this weekend and is looking forward to playing first against Mattek-Sands, having won both of their previous encounters.
“I think all of the ties, almost, I started, except for one, so I’m used to starting,” said Mattek-Sands. It’s going to be a tough match for me but I’m really looking forward to it and I’m going to try to play the best tennis I can and try to enjoy the crowd.”
Come Sunday, Clijsters will play the first reverse singles against Mattek-Sands who challenged her over three tough sets when they faced each other in Montreal last season.
Wickmayer is then drawn to play Oudin for the first time in the last of the singles, before a doubles rubber which currently lists Kirsten Flipkens and An-Sophie Mestach to take on Liezel Huber and Vania King.
On paper the Belgians undoubtedly start as favourites to face either the Slovak Republic or the Czech Republic in April’s semifinals.
But USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who has led her country to successive finals since she took on the role in 2009, has great belief in the team she has moulded together and is pleased with the way the draw came out, having Mattek-Sands face Wickmayer first.
“It suits me, I think that’s actually a very critical match,” said Fernandez. “I think that’s a match we need to win to give ourselves a really good chance. Bethanie’s been playing well and has played a lot of matches in Australia. She’s an aggressive player so hopefully she’s going to be on and that’s the one we’d like to get ahead on.”
This will be the seventh Fed Cup tie between these two nations with USA holding a 5-1 head-to-head advantage. But Belgium’s solitary success came back in 2006 when they met in this country for the first time and they will be hoping that their second encounter on home soil is similarly successful.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
R2: Kim Clijsters (BEL) v Melanie Oudin (USA)
R3: Kim Clijsters (BEL) v Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
R4: Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Melanie Oudin (USA)
R5: Kirsten Flipkens / An-Sophie Mestach (BEL) v Liezel Huber / Vania King (USA)
Watch this tie live on: FedCup.tv
Captain Sabine Appelmans (BEL) - 04/02/2011
Kim Clijsters (BEL) - 04/02/2011
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) - 04/02/2011
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) - 04/02/2011
An-Sophie Mestach (BEL) - 04/02/2011
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) - 04/02/2011
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) - 04/02/2011
Melanie Oudin (USA) - 04/02/2011
Liezel Huber and Vania King (USA) - 04/02/2011