NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Justine Henin retired in 2008, Belgian tennis was in a state of shock.
A year after Kim Clijsters called it a day, a nation that had two players in the world’s top four was suddenly left with nothing, reduced to the ranks of also-rans.
The return last month of Clijsters after the birth of her first child lifted Belgian spirits.
And just like buses, another one has come along, with Yanina Wickmayer joining 2005 winner Clijsters in the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open.
Though her style is nothing like the former world number one, the 19-year-old Wickmayer has long been held up as the next Henin.
On Monday, the world number 50 edged out Czech Petra Kvitova 4-6 6-4 7-5 to reach the last eight at Flushing Meadows, a possibility she had dared not even dream about before the tournament began.
“I think if you’ve never played a quarter-final, if your furthest in a grand slam is second round, I don’t think you can expect anything,” she said.
”I was feeling well the last few weeks. I was playing well. I was winning a lot of matches, playing good matches against the top players, so I was feeling pretty confident.
“But being in the quarters in a grand slam for the first time is just a special moment. It’s really unbelievable.”
Wickmayer enjoyed the bulk of the crowd support at Flushing Meadows, perhaps partly because she spent three years in Florida when she left Belgium aged nine after the death of her mother from cancer.
“I wanted to get away from home,” she said. “I loved playing tennis. I was actually only playing for half a year. I really enjoyed it but just wanted to get away from home and do other stuff, be around other people. That’s why we left.”
Wickmayer’s father, Marc, sold the family construction business, packed their bags and he and Yanina moved to Florida, where she trained at the famous tennis academy in Saddlebrook.
But Wickmayer said her father had agreed to the move not to further her tennis, but just to help her get over the death of her mother.
”It was completely my (decision),“ she said. ”I still don’t know how I did it when I was nine. I guess I was older than I thought I was.
”I have to admire him (her father) for giving up everything he had. He gave up his job. He gave up his friends, he gave up the house, his cars, and we just left.
“He gave up everything just to make his little girl happy, not to make her a tennis champion. He’s a great guy.”
Editing by Steve Ginsburg