Published July 03, 2013
LONDON – When Kirsten Flipkens found herself on the sideline, her list of true supporters grew thinner by the day.
One of the folks who always remained on that list was another Belgian — Kim Clijsters.
Clijsters was in tears at home, watching on TV, as Flipkens took the next step on a comeback that landed her in the Wimbledon semifinals with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova on Tuesday.
"Still drying my eyes," Clijsters tweeted. "So proud of how @FlipperKF handled the big occasion for the first time!"
Indeed, the 20th-seeded Flipkens handled the pressure of her first Grand Slam quarterfinal with ease.
It's been a long road back for the former Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior champion, who was diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg last year, then missed two months and dropped outside the top 250 — so low that she couldn't even get into Wimbledon qualifying last year.
"Kim was one of the few people still believing in me," Flipkens said. "I have to thank her. The people believing in me I can count on one hand. It's amazing."
Flipkens became the first Belgian to reach the Wimbledon semifinals since Justine Henin in 2007. But her true bond was with Clijsters, the four-time Grand Slam winner who Flipkens credits for reviving her career.
"She's been there for me through the good and through the bad times," Flipkens said. "Of course, I have to thank her for still believing in me."
In the semis Thursday, Flipkens will play No. 15 Marion Bartoli, a 6-4, 7-5 winner over No. 17 Sloane Stephens in a match interrupted by rain with Stephens serving down 5-4 at deuce. After a delay of nearly 2½ hours, Stephens returned, served two points, lost them both and was down a set.
She won her serve only once in the second set and, like that, the last American singles player, man or woman, was gone from a tournament that has produced more than its share of surprises, along with a list of women's semifinalists nobody could have predicted.
"Very unexpected," said Bartoli, in her first Grand Slam semifinal since the French Open in 2011. "But that's also the magic of it."
The other semifinal will match No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland against No. 23 Sabine Lisicki, the German who ousted Serena Williams on Tuesday.
In the men's quarterfinals Wednesday, it'll be No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 7 Tomas Berdych, No. 2 Andy Murray vs. 54th-ranked Fernando Verdasco, No. 4 David Ferrer vs. No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro, and No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz vs. 130th-ranked Lukasz Kubot. Djokovic is the lone past Wimbledon champion in the bunch.
Showing no sign of a drop-off after snapping Williams' 34-match winning streak, Lisicki dismantled 46th-ranked Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3.
The match took 65 minutes, then Lisicki sat back and watched the rest of the quarterfinals play out through a series of rain delays, three-set matches and injury timeouts, which included one stop for eighth-seeded Kvitova to have a thermometer stuck in her ear by a trainer because of a virus that hit her before the match.
"I felt pretty dizzy and tired and sleepy, so, I mean, for sure didn't help me," Kvitova said after falling to Flipkens.
Lisciki, meanwhile, became the betting favorite for the tournament after her win over Williams. She even bumped Britain's favorite tennis player, Andy Murray, off the back pages of a few of the tabloids. Asked if she has to pinch herself after first toppling Williams and now finding herself a win away from her first Grand Slam final, Lisicki said, essentially, no.
"I thought anything is possible before the tournament started, so ..." she said.
Radwanska is also taking a "happy-to-be-there" approach after her 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2 victory over 2011 French Open champion Li Na.
"Now I'm just more relaxed. ... Semifinal — it's already (a) great result," Radwanska said. "I will just go on court and try my best again, without that big pressure."
She entered Tuesday only 1-7 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, but made the kind of stand she usually doesn't at that stage, saving four set points while Li served at 5-4 in the first. After taking that tiebreaker there were some shaky moments to come for Radwanska, who blew a 4-2 lead in the second set.
After Li evened the match Radwanska requested treatment from a trainer, who wrapped the player's right thigh with white tape and massaged her back.
"My legs are a bit overused," said Radwanska, who in 2012 became Poland's first major finalist in 73 years. "If it's the end of a Grand Slam, you don't really think about the pain or anything else."
She needed eight match points to put away Li, including six in the closing game, which lasted 10 minutes. But Radwanska finally did it, setting up a reunion of sorts with Lisicki, someone she faced when they were juniors playing under-12 events.
"Time flies," Radwanska said, "and suddenly we are here playing (the) semifinal of a Grand Slam."