Clijsters to play Oudin on opening day in Fed Cup
Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters will play Melanie Oudin on Saturday in the Fed Cup when Belgium faces the United States in the best-of-five series.
In the opener, Yanina Wickmayer will try to shake off lingering symptoms of a cold when she faces Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the top-ranked player on the American team.
Reverse singles are set for Sunday with a possible deciding doubles to conclude play.
The U.S., playing without the injured Williams sisters, has been the Fed Cup runner-up the last two years. Belgium would have been an even bigger favorite this week had Justine Henin not suddenly retired last week.
Still, the Belgians will get more than enough support from a crowd at the Sports Palace which is expected to top 10,000.
''This will be the biggest crowd we have played against the last couple of years,'' said U.S. team captain Mary Joe Fernandez. ''It is great for Fed Cup. It is great for both teams. We are going to pretend they are rooting for us the whole time.''
The U.S. team is accustomed to playing without the Williams sisters and has no fear of an intimidating crowd or top players like Clijsters.
''It's a matter of playing your best whenever you play and approaching it the right way,'' said Fernandez.
The combination of No. 48-ranked Mattek-Sands and No. 61-ranked Oudin should be no match for 2nd-ranked Clijsters and 26th-ranked Wickmayer. But Fernandez is hoping that somehow, her team can get to at least the deciding doubles.
''I have always said I want it to come down to the doubles,'' said Fernandez. ''That's always my goal. If we win before that it is a bonus, but we like our chances if we get down to the doubles.''
South African-born Liezel Huber is 3-0 in deciding doubles matches for the U.S. Mattek-Sands hit her groove early this season, helping the American mixed team win the Hopman Cup.
The U.S. hasn't won the Fed Cup since 2000, a 5-0 win over Spain. It has never lost consecutive Fed Cup matches. Belgium won its only Fed Cup in 2001, when Clijsters was still an emerging player on the team.