x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Flipkens has flipped career switch back on with help from Clijsters

The Belgian was down and out in the rankings but has come back in style from a life-threatening injury.

Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium celebrates after defeating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in their women's quarter-final tennis match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT TENNIS) *** Local Caption *** WIM142_TENNIS-WIMBL_0702_11.JPG
Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium celebrates after defeating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in their women's quarter-final tennis match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT TENNIS) *** Local Caption *** WIM142_TENNIS-WIMBL_0702_11.JPG

LONDON // Kirsten Flipkens is on the cusp of a career turnaround that even Hollywood would consider too far-fetched after gatecrashing the Wimbledon semi-finals with the greatest win of her life.

The Belgian's career was in the balance last year when she was diagnosed with four blood clots in a calf muscle and told she would be putting her health at serious risk if she boarded a flight to Japan for a Fed Cup tie.

That was in April 2012 and, with her career already failing to live up to the expectations that a junior Wimbledon title in 2003 had triggered, it was not long before the Belgian tennis federation pulled their funding.

Flipkens had to lay down her racket, and even though she was fit in time for the Wimbledon qualifying event two months later, her world ranking had fallen so low she was ineligible to compete.

Out in the cold, and with a long-term backer no longer by her side, it fell to the former US Open champion Kim Clijsters, one of Flipkens's closest allies, to rally to her aid.

Clijsters has been supportive ever since, and was warmly thanked by Flipkens yesterday after her 27-year-old compatriot caused the latest in the growing line of major shocks at this year's event by beating the 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.

Now Flipkens has a semi-final against the 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli to look forward to today, with the prospect of Saturday's final hard to ignore at this stage.

A dazed Flipkens said: "I still don't really realise what I've managed to go through and what I've achieved.

"Last year I didn't get into the qualifying of Wimbledon. I was ranked 262nd; today I'm a semi-finalist in a grand slam.

"It's a dream – more than a dream – come true.

"I think I'm the most surprising name in the last four, but I don't really care, to be honest, at this moment. I never expected this to happen in my life."

Flipkens was able to deal with the health scare last year and is able to take flights again, and her career had reached new heights this season, even before Wimbledon.

She has soared to 20th in the world rankings, having started the year by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open, which until this Wimbledon was her best grand slam performance.

Like a host of promising junior players – Flipkens also won the US Open girls title – she struggled for many years to make the transition to the senior game.

One look at her grand slam record over the past decade tells a tale of getting by but making scant impact. First-round and second-round defeats have been the norm.

Clijsters's recent influence has been telling.

"She's been there for me through the good and through the bad times. I have to thank her for still believing in me," Flipkens said. "I practise at her academy. I feel great there. I feel great with my entourage. Winning on my mum's birthday makes it even more special."

It was some way for mother Carry to celebrate her birthday, and there could be more to toast later in the week.

Why, Flipkens was asked by media after her win over Kvitova, did she carry on last year, when all hope looked forlorn?

"The love for the sport," she said. "I think I've been through a lot of ups and downs throughout my career. I've had so many injuries. Even after the juniors.

"I was a world champion junior. The year – after I had a really bad back injury – all doctors said my career would have been over normally. But I'm just the kind of person that doesn't like to break, and I keep on fighting back every time. I don't regret my decision last year to fight back."

Today's other semi-final sees, Agnieszka Radwanska, the No 4 seed who is the highest-ranked player left in the draw, takes on Sabine Lisicki, the No 23 seed, who accounted for defending champion Serena Williams in the fourth round on Monday.

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