Clijsters to play Henin at 40,000-seat stadium
BRUSSELS (AP)—Belgian rivals Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin will play an exhibition match in Brussels and attempt to beat the record crowd of 30,492 that assembled for the Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs match at the Houston Astrodome.
The exhibition will be held at the 40,000-capacity King Baudouin Stadium on July 8.
If 34,000 tickets are sold and all 6,000 invitees show up for the evening match, it will easily top the record number of fans who attended the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match between King and Riggs.
“We can do this together, so why not break this record,” Henin said Tuesday.
King has been invited as an honorary umpire for the “Best of Belgium” match, and profits will go to humanitarian causes backed by the players.
Clijsters, who has won two U.S. Open titles, and Henin, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, both came back from retirement in the past year and have returned to prominence. Clijsters won at Flushing Meadows last fall and Henin reached the final of the Australian Open in January.
“It is extraordinary. It is almost surreal,” said Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, whose government backs the match. “When I talk to world leaders, whether it is in China or the United States, they talk about Kim and Justine.”
The stadium is used for Belgium’s national soccer team and hosts the Van Damme track meet.
Usually a 50,000-seat venue, 10,000 seats will be replaced by a huge television screen to make sure fans can see Henin’s famed backhand and Clijsters’ powerful groundstrokes.
“It will be very emotional,” Clijsters said. “It is so much bigger than what we are used to. And, on top, we can break the record.”
Beating the “Battle of the Sexes” record will not have the social connotations of King’s 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Riggs, when she made a bold statement for a generation of women in the United States.
This time, the match marks the opening of Belgium’s six-month presidency of the European Union.
It’s still undecided which surface, hard court or clay, will be used for the event, said organizer Bob Verbeeck.