KOKSIJDE, BELGIUM: It has been a tough period for Belgian women’s tennis since the retirement of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. The days of reaching the latter stages of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas competition are now long in the past as Belgium face a must-win World Group II play-off against Poland in Koksijde this weekend if they are to retain their place among the world’s elite.
Belgium’s last victory came in Clijsters’ final Fed Cup tie before retirement when they beat USA 4-1 at home in the World Group first round in February 2011. Four consecutive defeats since then see Belgium facing relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group I for the first time since 1995 if they cannot overcome a Polish side who arrive in the northern seaside resort with world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in tow.
Agnieszka will feature in the opening match on day one as she takes on Alison Van Uytvanck, before Kirsten Flipkens faces Urszula Radwanska in what will be a key rubber for Belgium if they are to have any chance of claiming victory this weekend.
As if it was not difficult enough, the absence of world No. 35 and 2009 US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer makes Belgium’s task even tougher. How captain Ann Devries, still searching for her first win since taking over from Sabine Appelmans last year, must long for the golden days when Henin and Clijsters led Belgium to their first and only Fed Cup title in 2001.
Devries said: “It has been tough. Henin and Clijsters were both No. 1 in the world. I think we have a few other very good players like Kirsten and Yanina and the younger ones coming up, but of course it is not the same as having two No. 1s almost at the same time.
“The younger players are doing a great job but maybe they are not yet experienced enough to win those kind of matches.”
Agnieszka returns to action here after a short break at home following her loss to Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Sony Open in Miami at the end of last month. The 24-year-old is the overwhelming favourite for her match against Van Uytvanck, who is ranked No.183.
19-year-old Van Uytvanck showed her potential last year, though, in the Brussels Open in May when she claimed two impressive victories as a wild card against Ksenia Pervak and Chanelle Scheepers before losing 62 61 to Agnieszka in the quarterfinals.
The second rubber between world No. 22 Flipkens and Agnieszka’s sister Urszula, ranked just 10 places below the Belgian, is crucial for the hosts if they are to have a hope going into day two. Flipkens should be confident, though, coming into the tie at a career-high ranking and in good form, having reached the quarterfinals in Miami, losing to Agnieszka in three sets.
Having managed to get out of the notoriously difficult Group I zone group competition in Israel in February at the third time of asking, Polish captain Tomasz Wiktorowski will be determined to make the most of what is undoubtedly a very good opportunity to return to World Group II for the first time since 2010 but he is understandably cautious about being too optimistic.
Wiktorowski said: “Belgium have very talented young players. I think they are able to replace Yanina very well. Of course, Yanina has experience of the big moments and that’s the thing they can’t replace.
“But I have seen Alison. She plays very good tennis and probably she is going to show her best this weekend. We just need to be focused on our game, aims and goals.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) v Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
R2: Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) v Urszula Radwanska (POL)
R3: Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) v Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
R4: Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) v Urszula Radwanska (POL)
R5: Ysaline Bonaventure/An-Sophie Mestach (BEL) v Katarzyna PiterAlicja Rosoloska (POL)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores
Captain Ann Devries (BEL) - 19/04/13
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 19/04/13
Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) - 19/04/13
Captain Tomasz Wiktorowski (POL) - 13/04/13
Agnieszka Radwanksa (POL) 19/04/13
Urszula Radwanska (POL) - 19/04/13