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  Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Belgium's rising stars
Kim Clijsters
Clijsters has already done better than boyfriend Hewitt
By BBC Sport Online's Alex Perry at Roland Garros

Try to name as many famous Belgians as you can, as the old pub game goes, and few people can get much beyond five.

Hercule Poirot, Tintin, Eddie Merckx, Jean Marc Bosman, Plastic Bertrand, er...

But things could be about to change with the emergence of a new breed of Belgian tennis player.

Kim Clijsters, who is not 18 until Friday, and Justine Henin, who turned 19 earlier in the week, will meet in Thursday's women's semi-final, guaranteeing Belgian participation in a Grand Slam final for the first time.


Working hard is an important factor
Tennis star Sabine Appelmans on Belgian tennis
Admittedly the pair have benefited from the carnage in the bottom half of the draw. Lindsay Davenport withdraw on the eve of the tournament, and Venus Williams and Amelie Mauresmo were ousted on the first day's play.

But their progression in the women's game has been noted for some time, and after their exploits in Paris, both will claim a place in the world's top 10 at the end of the tournament.

Sabine Applemans, who has carried the flag for Belgium over the last 10 years until her recent retirement, believes the Belgian Tennis Federation is doing a lot for the country's tennis hopefuls.

"Young players are chosen to go to the federation, and there they can combine tennis and school and their parents don't have to pay so much financially," says Applemans.

"It's open to anyone, as long as they have talent and are willing to work hard - working hard is an important factor."

Clijsters echoes those sentiments. "We've got good facilities in Belgium," she says. "We've got two federations and I think everyone works very hard there.

"We have some good new talent in Belgium - I hope it's an extra motivation for those young kids to keep playing tennis."

Sabine Appelmans
Appelmans has benefited from the Belgian Tennis Association
And if the world has yet to sit up and take notice, Applemans says that the pair are definitely creating a stir back home.

That was clear at Roland Garros on Tuesday, when hordes of colourful Belgian fans were in evidence, among them Prince Philippe of the Belgian royal family.

But just in case Clijsters was in danger of getting carried away with her new-found fame, her success is put into perspective by her friends and family.

Her father, Leo, is a former international footballer who was Belgian player of the year in 1988. And her boyfriend is men's world number six Lleyton Hewitt, with whom she teamed up to reach the Wimbledon mixed doubles final last year.

Henin says she and Clijsters are "close friends", and the pair are also hard to separate when it comes to ability.

The two of them have met just once this year, with Clijsters emerging victorious from a tight three-set match at Indian Wells.

Whoever wins Friday's semi-final, it's a bright new era for tennis in their country, and could be just the beginning of a whole new chapter of famous Belgians.

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