In the bottom half of the women’s draw at the 2010 Australian Open, two clear storylines are emerging after a fateful Friday in Melbourne.
While Serena Williams and Venus Williams do battle in the top half of the draw, en route to a potential semifinal showdown, the bottom half of the women’s field has proven to be especially intriguing. Belgian and Russian players are grabbing headlines Down Under, and in this post, we’ll look at day five of the Australian Open through the eyes of Belgium:
There was, admittedly, a lingering amount of concern about Clijsters’s nerves entering this event. When she won last September in New York, the 26-year-old was so happy to simply be back on a tennis court that she didn’t feel the pressure of major tournament competition. After going through an offseason and preparing for more scrutiny in 2010, Clijsters rediscovered a tennis environment in which everyday exposure creates a different mental dynamic. Her U.S. Open experience was a joyride, but this visit to the Southern Hemisphere was a business trip loaded with expectations.
A number of observers – including this one – felt that if Clijsters met Henin once again in the quarterfinals, nerves would enable Henin to advance. Amazingly, however, that all-Belgian matchup – which seemed likely once Henin fought past Elena Dementieva in the second round – will not take place in a few days.
Instead, the Belgian with a deserved reputation for perseverance reminded tennis fans just how resilient she can be. Henin fought off those two break points at 1-3, held for 2-3, and eventually won the second set when an increasingly nervous Kleybanova double faulted.
A contentious third set was on serve through the first five games, as the two players exchanged one service break apiece, but when Henin’s variety and all-court game forced a few errors from the No. 27 seed in the sixth game of the set, a light in the Ukrainian’s eyes seemed to dim. Henin broke for 4-2 and closed out the match shortly thereafter, advancing to the fourth round on the strength of her indomitable will.
There will be an all-Belgian battle in this tournament, it must be noted. It will simply arrive one round earlier than many expected.
Yanina Wickmayer, a semifinalist at the 2009 U.S. Open, has gone 11-0 since she overcame a mighty scrap with officials from both a Belgian anti-doping tribunal and the International Tennis Federation. Belgian authorities and the ITF imposed a one-year ban on Wickmayer last November for violating anti-doping rules and regulations.
However, that ban was overturned in December, and it’s clear how much the 20-year-old is relishing her reprieve. Wickmayer moved into the fourth round and secured a date with Henin by outlasting Italy’s Sara Errani, 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3, at Margaret Court Arena.
Abundant action is enveloping Belgium’s tennis stars in Australia. Kim Clijsters took an unexpected tumble, but with Justine Henin and Yanina Wickmayer leading the charge, at least one native of this small country will reach the Australian Open quarterfinals.
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