There is a new contender for the list of famous Belgians. To Eddy Mercx, Audrey Hepburn, Rene Magritte and, of course, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, may soon be added the bespectacled 27 year-old Kristen Flipkens, who will tomorrow play in a Wimbledon semi-final.
A year ago, she was, as they say, scarcely a household name in her own house. “I didn't even get into the qualifiers here and I was ranked 262,” she recalled in the immediate excitement of having beaten eighth seed Petra Kvitova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Suffering from potentially career-ending blood clots in the calf, she missed two months of last season. She lost her funding from the Belgian tennis federation and ended up travelling to tournaments without a coach or physio. “I could count on one hand the people believing in me,” she said, before confirming that Clijsters, a good friend who tweeted support throughout the match, was one who did.
Had Kvitova not been physically below par, the task would admittedly have been tougher. The 2011 Wimbledon champion took the first set but required a medical time-out after losing the second, in which pills were administered for dizziness.
She was broken for 4-5 in the third and despite having saved two match points, must have known that a forlorn challenge after losing the third was doomed to fail. Pills or not, the bitterest one to swallow was the knowledge that with Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all gone, a second final in three years seemed there for the taking.
“It was a big chance to be in the semi-final but I think it's a weird Grand Slam here,” she said. “I'm not sure if it was flu but I got some sort of virus. I felt pretty dizzy and tired and sleepy, so for sure that didn't help me. I don't do [any] excuse because of this. Kirsten played very well. She did not give me anything free.”
The winner, naturally enough, did not want Kvitova's illness to detract from her triumph, claiming: “You still have to beat her, a former champion, so you know it's going to be a really tough match. She was the favourite rankings-wise but rankings don't say anything. There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career. I was world champion junior then the year after I had a really bad back injury and doctors said my career would normally be over. I'm the most surprising name in the last four but I don't care.”