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Rising stars seek to fill former greats' shoes

Caroline Garcia at qualifying
by Dan Imhoff at Qualifying
Tuesday 18 June 2013

As far as expectations for Grand Slam successors go, up-and-coming Belgians have a tough act to follow coming from such a small nation with a rich recent history of triumphs.

When former No.1s and multiple major champions Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin retired, the focus naturally shifted to the next wave of juniors most likely to fill their shoes.

Born less than a month apart, 19-year-olds An-Sophie Mestach and Alison Van Uytvanck have given Belgians reason to hope their nation's dream run stands a chance at being revived, albeit in small, stunted steps.

On Tuesday both moved closer to making their debuts in the Wimbledon main draw with opening-round wins in qualifying at Roehampton.

Van Uytvanck made light work of Russian Ekaterina Bychkova 6-4, 6-4, while Mestach battled past American Shelby Rogers on the next court, 6-3, 0-6, 6-4.

Much like their hugely decorated idols, Clijsters and Henin, both have enormous talent to boot and the frustration of debilitating injuries, which have thwarted their progress.

Mestach - the former junior world No.1 and the 2011 Junior Australian Open champion - has missed almost 18 months of the past two years, mainly due to a wrist injury, while Van Uytvanck has sat out lengthy periods due to an ongoing back complaint.

For Mestach, the relief after rebounding from a second set blip was written all over her face as Shelby's backhand landed wide on match point.

"Totally relieved. I really wanted to win this match. I mean it's Wimbledon, my first Wimbledon. I was a little nervous so I was happy to finish," she beamed.

"I was injured for a long time so I did a lot of hard work and a lot of fitness."

It was a welcome result as she'd earlier taken time to watch her young countrywoman's progress on the neighbouring court.

"Yeah we're good friends. I've known her since I was eight so I know her well. It's fun that we're around the same ranking and can travel together to the same tournaments," Mestach said.

Both share a mutual admiration for the example set by two of the game's greats.

"Yeah totally I mean I always looked up to Kim and Justine," Mestach said. "Both were the best in the world. I loved the technique of Justine and the mentality of Kim on the court."

Van Uytvanck's victory marked the second time in as many weeks she had defeated Bychkova, having also taken her out on her way to winning through two rounds of qualifying and upsetting 11th seed Ayumi Morita of Japan in the first round at Birmingham.

"Yeah I played the juniors before in Wimbledon and this is my first time playing the quallies and really happy to pass the first round," she said before noting she was eager to get back in time to see her friend finish.

"I will just stretch and run a bit and then I'll go and watch her."

The youngest of the next great American hopes, 18-year-old Samantha Crawford, also joined the winners' list with last year's Junior US Open champion accounting for countrywoman Chiara Scholl, 6-2, 7-5.

It was not such a good day for another heavy-hitting American teen, Jessica Pegula. The world No.135 was dealt a code violation warning for coaching at 3-3 in the second set of her match with Turkey's Cagla Buyukakcay before a right knee injury brought her run to an early end, trailing 6-2, 5-4.

While they couldn't getting their hands on an Australian Rules football, 2011 Junior Wimbledon champion Ash Barty and her coach Jason Stoltenberg made do passing time waiting for her match to begin, kicking around an American football. Unfortunately for Barty, she wasn't on court long, falling in two quick sets 6-2, 6-0 to France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon.

It was smooth sailing for the highest-ranked teenager in the qualifying draw with French hope Caroline Garcia (pictured above), the No.3 seed, breezing past Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg 6-3, 6-1.

Separated by just five places in rankings and only a year apart, it was the slightly older and lower-ranked of the up-and-comers, 147th ranked Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic, who took down 19-year-old Russian Daria Gavrilova in two tight sets, 7-5, 7-5 earlier in the day.

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