CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: Czech Republic is seeking to make it third time lucky, having been defeated at the semifinal stage of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas in each of the last two years.
They face a Belgium side far less fearsome than one which could have stood between them and a place in the final. Justine Henin retired for a second time back in January, while a more recent blow for the home side came earlier this month, when US Open and Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters withdrew due to shoulder and wrist problems.
That, therefore, places a great deal of expectation on both Yanina Wickmayer and Kirsten Flipkens. Wickmayer was always set to play, but is now Belgium’s leading light. Flipkens – at best – may have been given court time in the doubles had Clijsters been fit, but at No. 106 in the world, will now face Czech Republic’s top talent, world No. 18 Petra Kvitova, in Saturday’s opening singles rubber.
For Flipkens, a return to Fed Cup action at the Spiroudome in Charleroi brings back painful memories, having been part of the team which lost 3-2 to Italy in the Fed Cup final back in 2006.She said: “Justine had to retire with an injury in the deciding doubles, but I’ve also had some nice memories of Fed Cup as well. To play a final is already an exciting thing. Let’s hope we can make it again this year.”
That appearance in 2006 was Belgium’s last trip to a Fed Cup final. They also reached the final in 2001, claiming a 2-1 victory over Russia.
Flipkens added: “2001 we played in the final, and again in 2006. We seem to get there every five years … so, hopefully …”
And with that comment, her answered tailed off, maybe an indication as to the mind-set in the camp. They hope to win this weekend, rather than expect. The tag of underdogs, though, suits Belgium’s captain, Sabine Appelmans.
The label of favourites sits a little less comfortably with Kvitova, who suggested: “We have a better chance because Belgium is without Kim (Clijsters), but we have to remain focused because Yanina and Kirsten have been playing very well.”
Czech Republic lost at the semifinal stage last year to eventual champions Italy, having been defeated by the USA in 2009. The home team has never reached the Fed Cup final as the Czech Republic, having last lifted the coveted trophy as Czechoslovakia back in 1988, with a 2-1 win over the USSR.
The weight of a nation, though, does not burden Kvitova, who added: “I’m aware of our history in this competition but I refuse to look back, rather look forward and for the weekend.”
Flipkens against Kvitova will be followed by Wickmayer against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (No. 49), who was a rather surprise choice for many over the slightly higher ranked Iveta Benesova (No. 42).
There’s every chance that this tie could go down to the fifth rubber. It would be some story were close friends An-Sophie Mestach and debutant Alison van Uytvanck to win the deciding doubles. The pair were playing junior tennis together, aged seven, when Belgium last won the Fed Cup.
The tale would have an equally happy ending were Czech Republic to reach a final at the third time of asking. History beckons for one of these nations. Something’s got to give.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) v Petra Kvitova (CZE)
R2: Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
R3: Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Petra Kvitova (CZE)
R4: Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) v Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
R5: An-Sophie Mestach / Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) v Iveta Benesova / Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
Watch the tie live on: FedCup.tv
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 15/04/2011
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 15/04/2011
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) - 15/04/2011
Iveta Benesova (CZE) - 15/04/2011
Captain Sabine Appelmans (BEL) - 15/04/2011
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) - 15/04/2011
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) - 15/04/2011
An-Sophie Mestach and Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) - 15/04/2011