Henin-Hardenne puts Belgium ahead in Fed Cup final
CHARLEROI, Belgium, Sept 17 (Reuters) World number two Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Italy's Francesca Schiavone 6-4 7-5 in today's opening match of the Fed Cup final to leave Belgium just one win away from a second title.
Buoyed up by the home crowd, which included an injured Kim Clijsters, the French Open champion squeezed past the tough Italian in a match littered with double faults and unforced errors.
World number four Clijsters played in both of her country's victories en route to this year's final before a wrist injury forced her out of action for two months.
In today's second singles, Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens, ranked 98 in the world, faces a tough test against Flavia Pennetta who is ranked 78 places above her.
In their only previous meeting, at this year's French Open, Flipkens won just one game.
Should Pennetta win, the doubles will decide the title between the 2001 champions and Italy, who are playing in their first final.
With the tie level at 1-1 after Saturday's singles, Henin-Hardenne started slowly against Schiavone and dropped her opening service game for a second day in succession. She hit back immediately to break the Italian's serve twice.
The 24-year-old Belgian looked to be on course to easily take the opening set but Schiavone broke service in the ninth game. However, she served badly in the next game to allow her opponent to take the first set.
The second set swung like a pendulum with Schiavone taking first blood by breaking serve in the third game, but again the Belgian fought her way back to break back in the seventh game before eventually closing out the match.
Yesterday, Henin-Hardenne beat Pennetta 6-4 7-5, while Schiavone powered past Flipkens 6-1 6-3 in just over an hour.
REUTERS AY VC2120