Antwerp, Belgium - Yanina Wickmayer and recently-crowned Australian Open champ Kim Clijsters won singles matches Saturday to give Belgium a 2-0 lead over the United States in the Fed Cup quarterfinals.
Wickmayer was up first and notched a 6-1, 7-6 (8-6) victory over Bethanie Mattek-Sands to give the Belgians the first point in the best-of-five tie. Clijsters then needed an hour to post a 6-0, 6-4 rout of Melanie Oudin in the second singles match.
The Americans are playing without their top two stars, as both Venus and Serena Williams are sitting out because of injury. Serena is still bothered by a foot injury that kept her out of the Australian Open, while Venus severely pulled a muscle during the Melbourne fortnight -- an injury that forced her to retire just seven points into a fourth-round match against Andrea Petkovic.
"We were expecting a tough day and we got one," said U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez. "Both Yanina and Kim came out of the blocks very strong."
Clijsters claimed the title at the Australian Open last weekend, rallying for a three-set victory over China's Li Na in the final, and she carried that momentum into Saturday's match. The four-time Grand Slam champ won the first set in a mere 21 minutes, limiting Oudin to just seven points, then captured the first two games of the second set before the American finally got on the board.
Oudin then broke Clijsters and held serve to open a 3-2 lead in the second set, but the former world No. 1 bounced back and claimed the next three games to regain control before trading holds of serve to finish the match.
"It was fun to be out here playing again," said Clijsters about playing in front of the home crowd. "Obviously it's nice to come here and play here after a win because the people have been so supportive. I've kept them up during the night with the time change with Australia and it's nice to be back here, but I do look forward to having a few days off."
Wickmayer also had an easy first set on Saturday, taking it in 26 minutes, but Mattek-Sands regrouped in the second set. The American held a 5-2 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, but Wickmayer won the next four points before Mattek- Sands saved a match point. The next two points, however, went Wickmayer's way to end it.
"I played really aggressively in the beginning," said Wickmayer. "In the second set, I let her play a little bit too much, but on the important points I was aggressive and put pressure on her."
Clijsters will have the first opportunity to clinch the tie for Belgium in Sunday's first reverse singles match against Mattek-Sands. Wickmayer and Oudin are the slated to play the fourth rubber before the doubles match between Kirsten Flipkens and An-Sophie Mestach of the host nation against Liezel Huber and Vania King.
The Americans have won the Fed Cup 17 times, the last coming in 2000, but they finished as runners-up to Italy each of the last two years.
Belgium's lone Fed Cup crown came 10 years ago. The Belgians have won just once in six prior meetings with the United States in Fed Cup play.