40 LOVE History: Belgian Uprising
Published June 11, 2013 12:00
This week a new Top 20 star was born, as Kirsten Flipkens inched from No.21 to a new career-high of No.20 on the WTA Rankings. But she's not the first Belgian to crack the elite, oh no - for in the last 20 or so years five others from her tiny nation have risen to those heights, including two World No.1s.
The first Belgians to really make a mark on the WTA map did it in the 1990s, starting with Sabine Appelmans - an athletic lefty who won seven WTA titles in her career and whose Grand Slam career was highlighted by a run to the quarterfinals of the 1997 Australian Open. Appelmans broke the Top 20 for the first time on November 4, 1991, going as high as No.16 in '97 - but by then she as not alone.
On November 3, 1997, a petite powerhouse called Dominique Monami became Belgium's second Top 20 player, and less than a year later - on October 12, 1998 - she became the first from her nation to break the Top 10. Monami won four WTA titles and reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals in her career - both at the Australian Open, in 1997 and 1999. She would peak at No.9 and, after calling time on her career in 2000, would keep very, very busy - check wtatennis.com later this week to find out more.
The next two great Belgians almost need no introduction, as they were legends of their time, probably in one of the most competitive eras of women's tennis. Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters' careers ran almost parallel, both emerging in the early 2000s, both becoming Grand Slam champions and World No.1s, retiring in 2007 (Clijsters) and 2008 (Henin), staging comebacks in 2009 (Clijsters) and 2010 (Henin), then going back into retirement in 2011 (Henin) and 2012 (Clijsters). All the time, all class.
Henin would end up winning seven Grand Slams (the Australian Open in 2004, the French Open in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007, and the US Open in 2003 and 2007) while Clijsters would wind up with four (the US Open in 2005, 2009 and 2010 and the Australian Open in 2011). But Clijsters may have had the upper hand for fairytales - in her third event back she won the 2009 US Open, with daughter Jada storming the court and pointing to mommy on the big screen - definitely a Kodak moment.
Coincidentally, that was the breakthrough tournament for Yanina Wickmayer, who made a shock run to her first Grand Slam semifinal in Flushing Meadows and vaulted from No.50 to No.22 afterwards - she would become Belgium's fifth Top 20 player five weeks later, going as high as No.12 in 2010.
And that brings us to the present day, just the other day actually - Flipkens, a seasoned veteran of the WTA who has been honing her all-court game for years, has finally been rewarded for her immense talents, hitting the big 2-0 this week. It is the culmination of an inspiring fightback from blood clots and other off-court struggles that saw her fall as low as No.251 at this exact time one year ago.
For now, Flipkens and Wickmayer are flying the Belgian flag in the women's game - they're both flying it this week in fact, at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham. How will they do? Watch this space...