By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
ANTWERP, Belgium -- For the second straight tie, Bethanie Mattek-Sands will be the No. 1 singles player for the U.S. Fed Cup Team, and this time she will also play the first match.
At the official draw ceremony of the 2011 Fed Cup Quarterfinal tie between the U.S. and Belgium in Antwerp, Mattek-Sands was drawn to face Belgium’s No. 2 singles player Yanina Wickmayer in the opening match Saturday, followed by Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters, Belgium’s No. 1 player, against Melanie Oudin, the No. 2 player for the U.S.
On Sunday, Mattek-Sands and Clijsters will meet in the opening match, followed by Oudin vs. Wickmayer, and then the doubles rubber will take place, featuring Liezel Huber and Vania King for the U.S. against Kirsten Flipkens and An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium.
U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez and Belgian Captain Sabine Appelmans can also adjust their lineups for Sunday. Players for the first match can be changed up to one hour before the start of play.
Fernandez had a few different options for her lineup, with three great singles players in Mattek-Sands, Oudin and King and three of the top 15-ranked doubles players in King, Huber and Mattek-Sands. Should the tie come down to the final doubles rubber, the U.S. appears to have the upper hand, with King, the world No. 5, and Huber, the world No. 6 in doubles, and both Grand Slam doubles champions.
The Belgian team, on the other hand, hopes to close out the tie with its strong singles players, with Appelmans knowing the strength of the American doubles team.
"Everyone had a really good week, practiced really well and really hard. We have lots of versatility with Vania, who can play both singles and doubles. We just stuck with the rankings, and we will go from there," Fernandez said. "It has been nice to have the options. We have always been very fortunate with our doubles. Liezel has been there every time and has played some critical matches for us. I always say I want it to come down to the doubles, which is always my goal. To win before then is a bonus, but we like our chances if it comes down to doubles."
The U.S. first needs two singles victories to push the tie to the doubles rubber. In the opening match, Mattek-Sands and Wickmayer are friends but have not played each other since 2008, when they were both ranked outside the top 80 in the world. Much has changed since then, as Wickmayer is now the No. 26-ranked player in the world, and Mattek-Sands is No. 48.
"You either play first or second, I don’t think it is too big of a deal," Mattek-Sands said on her preference for the order of play. "I have been good friends with Yanina the past couple of years. We see each other at all the WTA events. She is a great player, a great person, and I think we will have a great match, so I am excited."
Wickmayer has had a solid Fed Cup career, with a 12-6 overall record and an 11-4 mark in singles. She knows Mattek-Sands, with a 5-4 overall record, presents a big challenge, and she will have to bring her best to give Belgium a 1-0 lead.
"She is a tough player, she is tough opponent," Wickmayer said. "She plays very aggressive, and I think she is the kind of player who likes to play Fed Cup, likes to play in front of big crowds, so it is going to be a tough match for me, a tough one to start with. I am really excited to be here and really excited to play my match, and I am going to do everything I can do to win, like I do every match."
Clijsters, the world No. 2, is fresh off winning her first Australian Open title – and fourth career Grand Slam tournament – last week but is feeling rested and ready to go. In fact, she thinks having played so many matches the last few weeks has only made her more prepared for this tie.
"I am going to try to be ready first or second. It does not change my attitude too much," Clijsters said of playing second against Oudin. "I am feeling good. I practiced with Yanina yesterday. I have played a lot of tennis the past few weeks, and I think I can kind of build on that. I have been able to rest enough and still train as much as I would like to. I am feeling ready for the tie."
She will face the 19-year-old Oudin, the world No. 61, who has admired Clijsters as a person and player for years. It will be the first career meeting between the two, and Oudin is looking forward to the matchup and is pleased she is playing second on Saturday.
"I am pretty excited. I am going to give it everything I have, of course," Oudin said. "I am a little bit happy that Bethanie is going first just so I have a little more time to prepare for tomorrow, but I think it will be a really good match."