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Belgian warning for the Williams

Berlin: The Williams sisters Venus and Serena have reigned supreme at the top of women’s tennis but now a tiny European country feels it is time for a change.

If anybody can challenge the sisters at the French Open later this month, it will be the Belgian pair of Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters. With Serena and Venus absent, the two advanced to Sunday’s German Open final, which Henin-Hardenne won 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 after a thrilling contest.

Providing Henin-Hardenne can recover from a knee injury sustained in the final, which forced her to pull out of this week’s Italian Open, the two will be back for more on the claycourts of Roland Garros from May 26.

It was in Paris two years ago that the Belgian pair burst into the limelight, clashing in the semi-finals before Clijsters bowed out to Capriati in the final.

“What’s happening is great for such a little country,” said Henin-Hardenne.

“We get a lot of attention. I remember after the (2001) French Open, I saw kids in the street playing tennis. I’d never seen that in Belgium.”

The world rankings, in which French Open champion Serena heads Clijsters with Venus in third followed by Henin-Hardenne, give a clear indication that the women’s game has become a Williams versus Belgium affair.

“Serena and Venus are extremely strong but we are now much closer to them and that goes for both myself and Kim,” said Henin-Hardenne, who ended Serena’s 21-match winning streak when she beat the world No. 1 in the Charleston final last month.

Clijsters, a ferocious competitor with allround ability, and Henin-Hardenne, a great mover with a superb single-handed backhand, can both do damage on all surfaces.

But Henin-Hardenne, who has a relatively light frame, is at her best on clay, where raw power is less of a factor than on faster courts.

“To me Justine is the best player on clay at the moment,” Clijsters said after demonstrating in Sunday’s final that she was almost in the same class as her compatriot, squandering three match points.

“I definitely feel that I’m still learning and I think I’m getting better all the time,” said Clijsters.

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