Belgium and Italy will take on each other this weekend in the finals of the Fed Cup, the biggest trophy in women's team tennis.
updated: February 25, 2007 11:36 IST
Charleroi, Belgium:The fate of the Fed Cup, the biggest trophy in women's team tennis, likely will be decided this weekend by a player who currently has a career-high ranking of 98th and has not won a single WTA Tour event. Kirsten Flipkens will be the key to Belgium's squad after Kim Clijsters pulled out injured last month. If No. 2-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne is conceded to win both her singles on Saturday and Sunday, the fans at the 6,000-capacity Spiroudome will be cheering for Flipkens to upset either 14th-ranked Francesca Schiavone or No. 20 Flavia Pannetta to earn Belgium's crucial third point. If not, everything could well come down to Sunday's concluding doubles, where Henin-Hardenne is expected to team up with Flipkens against the Italians. The veteran has full confidence in the 20-year-old Flipkens. "I trust Kirsten. She can do something special," Henin-Hardenne said. In the semifinals against the United States, Belgium had to play without the French Open champion and Flipkens won both her matches. "The Fed Cup is always something very special and I look forward to it," Flipkens said. Henin-Hardenne, 24, was part of the Belgian team that won the trophy in 2001. If anything, she is better now. She reached all four Grand Slam finals this year and won the French Open. Sunday's loss to Maria Sharapova in the US Open only made her hungrier for victory. She first has to deal with a sudden change of atmosphere - the court, the hall, the fans. "I don't have a lot of time to get used to the surface and the conditions but we play at home and it is going to be an advantage to us," she said. Belgium claimed its place in the final by first beating the defending champion Russia before defeating the Americans. The absence of Clijsters because of a lingering wrist injury could cost them the title. "With her, it would have been easier," Henin-Hardenne said of the world's fourth-ranked player. Then again, she admitted the Italians were formidable under any circumstance. "It is a very tightly knit group," Henin-Hardenne said. Schiavone is Italy's best, because of her ranking, spirit and win over then top-ranked Amelie Mauresmo in the Fed Cup quarterfinals. Even if Pannetta's tender wrist fails to have healed adequately, Italian Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti as a replacement Mara Santangelo, who won her first WTA Tour event earlier this year, reached the third round of the US Open and is ranked a career-high of 33rd. Overall, Italy leads Belgium 6-0, but Belgium has one title, while Italy has never won it. (AP)