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Kirsten Flipkens still believes in fairytales

Kirsten Flipkens celebrates her quarter-final victory.
by Alexandra Willis
Thursday 4 July 2013

There are times in life when good things happen to good people. Hard work pays off, dreams come true, and fairytales are realised. If the weirdities of Wimbledon 2013 have proved somewhat disturbing, the silver lining has been the shining of the spotlight on less familiar names.

Such as Kirsten Flipkens. 12 months ago, the Belgian, better-known for the sunglasses she favours on court rather than her tennis, was not even ranked high enough to enter the Wimbledon qualifying event at Roehampton.

Floundering at No.262 in the world, she had spent two months on the sidelines after being diagnosed with life-threatening bloodclots in her calf after a long-haul flight from Thailand. As a result, not only had her ranking plummeted, she had also lost funding from the Belgian tennis association.

"When everything is going well, everyone's your friend," Flipkens revealed. "But in hard times you learn who your friends are.

"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,"  the 27-year-old explained.

"Two days before we had to leave to Japan for a Fed Cup tie they found I had four blood clots and told me I was very lucky," she explained.

"If I had stepped on the plane then nine times out of 10 I would have come out blue, so I was really lucky at that time."

Life-threatening blood clots have prior form in tennis. Jamie Baker, the former British Davis Cup player revealed in Australia this year that suffering from a similar condition caused him bouts of serious depression.

But Flipkens has proved resilient.

"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 still fighting back.  I knew I could fight back and prove them all wrong."

Putting herself through the grit and grind of the ITF circuit, which takes players to far less glamorous pit-stops around the world than the main WTA Tour, the Belgian won two ITF titles before winning her first WTA title at the event in Quebec City, as well as reaching two semi-finals at 'S-Hertogenbosch and Linz.

She and fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters both exited the US Open in the second round, but just a few weeks later, even though she had officially retired from the tour, Clijsters was back playing doubles with her good friend.

Now training at the Clijsters academy in Bree, Belgium, Flipkens was also spotted hitting with the heavily pregnant Grand Slam champion at the tournament in Rome just two months ago.

"She's been there for me through the good and through the bad times," Flipkens said of Clijsters. "Of course, I have to thank her for still believing in me."

Earning a spot inside the WTA top 50 for the first time in her career in January 2013, Flipkens followed up an Auckland quarter-final and a Hobart semi-final with a fourth round at the Australian Open.

"It was already a great performance that I managed to get that far," she said.

Her ranking rising to world No.20 through the spring, she came into Wimbledon with confidence having reached the third round on Birmingham's grass and then making it all the way to the 's-Hertogenbosch final.

But to be in a Wimbledon semi-final, the first Belgian to do so since Justine Henin in 2007?

"I never expected this to happen in my life," she said. "Being in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, of the biggest tournament throughout the year, it has no words.  As I said, I never expected I would be able to come and get this far, so far."

Can she go further?

We'll find out on Thursday afternoon.

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