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Clijsters has clusters of talent

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PHILADELPHIA (Sports Network) - A couple of female tennis stars "arrived" over the last couple of years -- namely the Williams sisters. But there are some other young guns coming up through the ranks outside of the U.S. -- namely Belgian teenager Kim Clijsters.

The 17-year-old rising star has been steadily powering her way through the WTA rankings since last season. After closing out her 1999 campaign ranked No. 47 in the world, the youngster recently capped her 2000 season by soaring to No. 18.

Clijsters reached three finals this year...claiming two titles in the process. Trophies were hoisted in Hobart, Australia and Leipzig, Germany, while her championship round loss came against world No. 1 Martina Hingis in Filderstadt, Germany.

With three career titles to her credit, the young Belgian will look to add to that total in what would appear to be an extremely promising 2001.

Clijsters, ranked No. 409 at the end of 1998 (her first year as a pro), features a power game -- a requirement these days if you want to compete with the likes of Venus, Serena, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport. Clijsters will need to concentrate on beating the game's aforementioned stars if she wants to become a fixture in the Top-10. The Belgian teen was a combined 0-4 against Hingis, Davenport and Serena in 2000, including 0-2 versus the "Swiss Miss." And Clijsters could only manage a disappointing 2-4 record in her Grand Slam appearances, failing to get out of the first round in Melbourne and Paris. She suffered second-round setbacks at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.

Clijsters did, however, go 3-1 against Russian sensation Anna Kournikova this past season, including an important Fed Cup win for Belgium, which eventually lost to the two-time champion United States in the Fed Cup semifinals in Las Vegas. Davenport dismissed Clijsters in three sets in the desert last week to clinch that semifinal victory.

When Clijsters isn't working on her rather impressive game, she's dating rising men's star, and fellow teenager -- 19-year-old Aussie Lleyton Hewitt.

Much like Hewitt, Clijsters is a baseliner who prefers grass and hard courts, as opposed to clay.

Hewitt and Clijsters, who are frequently mistaken for brother and sister rather than boyfriend and girlfriend, have been an item for quite some time. Close enough that Clijsters spent part of this past summer on the road with Hewitt at tournaments in Cincinnati and Indianapolis instead of competing herself.

Clijsters boasts the big, if inconsistent, baseline game of a soon-to-be Grand Slam contender. Another up-and-comer on the women's circuit is Russian teenager Elena Dementieva, who recently said of Clijsters: "I think she is a great player, and I think she can be Top-5 easily, very easily." But Dementieva also said, "I don't think she (Clijsters) can be No. 1 because she's too pretty for being No. 1."


Belgium's top player closed out her 2000 season by performing at the Chase Championships in New York -- which staged the tournament for the last time before it shifts to Munich next year. Clijsters was a hit at the exclusive 16-player event, as she stunned fifth-seeded Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the first round. The future big champion from Bilzen reached the quarters at Madison Square Garden before giving way to the equally-as-tough Dementieva in the round of eight.

The Belgian got her chance to play at the season-ending tourney when five higher-ranked women withdrew because of injuries.

Clijsters, the 19-year-old Dementieva, 17-year-old Aussie/Yugoslavian Jelena Dokic, and another Belgian, 18-year-old Justine Henin, are some of the youngsters to keep an eye on right now in the world of women's professional tennis.

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