Any elite athlete will tell you that success requires various elements. Yes, you need ability, determination, drive, good form and consistency. Much of that comes from within, and over which the athlete has some control.
One other aspect, which is important – nay paramount – is fitness. Fitness, though, is often beyond the control of athletes, whether they be among the best in the world, or just the best in their street. Take the tie in Hasselt, for example, involving Belgium and Estonia.
Two of the world’s leading female tennis players, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, began the week in peak physical shape. But then, Henin tried to catch a ball during training and broke a finger, while Clijsters pushed off a little too vigorously on the indoor clay court and ruptured a muscle in her left foot!
So, take all those elements above and add one more to the list of ingredients needed for success – luck.
Thankfully, Belgium had Yanina Wickmayer in tip-top condition, and she saw them home with victory in the fourth rubber. But if the 2001 champions are to make an impact in next year’s World Group, then they’ll need everything to go their way, including luck.
Captain, Sabine Appelmans, told me: “We’ve realised after this weekend that a Fed Cup tie is still a different competition than an individual tournament, and it’s tough.”
Tough indeed. Estonia looked down and out on Saturday evening, and with initial news suggesting Clijsters had merely bruised her foot, signs were that she would take to the court on Sunday and get the job done first thing.
But then the luck changed. Clijsters pulled out, and an injured Henin came up against the Estonian force which is Kaia Kanepi. The momentum was with the Eastern Europeans, until Wickmayer steadied her nerves, and ended Estonia’s run of nine wins in a row in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.
For Estonia, the dream of reaching the World Group for the first time ended in Hasselt. They’ll try again next year, in World Group II, no doubt strengthened by the experience.
Belgium, meanwhile, will be back in the World Group for the first time since 2007, but stalwart Kirsten Flipkens knows their showing in the top tier will depend on whether they can call upon the likes of Clijsters and Henin on a regular basis.
“If you see our team, then we don’t have to worry about any opponent,” she said. “If everybody’s fit, which was not the case this week as we saw with Kim and Justine, then I think we can win against anybody.”
And there lies Belgium’s problem. It’s no coincidence that their absence from the World Group came during Clijsters’ and Henin’s retirement. With the two players back on board, Belgium rank among the best in the world. Without them, they simply do not have the strength in depth to challenge for the big prize.
Keeping them happy shouldn’t be a problem. Big-name players they may be, but without the big egos, which made for a great team spirit. What may be a problem, as has been highlighted this weekend, is keeping them fit