QUÉBEC CITY, Canada - Sometimes you go through some dark times, and your shining moment comes when you least expect it - and that's what might have just happened to Kirsten Flipkens, who after a very difficult and trying year captured her very first WTA title at the Bell Challenge in Québec City.
Having maintained a Top 100 ranking for years, Flipkens fell out of the elite during 2011 and the struggles only continued early on in 2012, as she couldn't make it through to any WTA main draws - she played completely in WTA qualifying and ITF Women's Circuit events. And in April things got even worse.
"I was out for eight weeks with blood clots," Flipkens said. "I had lost the support of the federation and not many people still believed in me. When everything is going well, everyone's your friend. But in hard times you learn who your friends really are. But I knew I could fight back and prove them all wrong."
Flipkens played her first tournament in more than two months at an ITF stop in Romania two weeks before Wimbledon, reaching the quarters, then made a breakthrough run to the semifinals of 's-Hertogenbosch the next week, scoring the first Top 10 win of her career along the way against Samantha Stosur.
"I got a lot of confidence out of that week in Rosmalen, beating Stosur and Vinci," she said. "I won two $25,000 tournaments in the summer, too."
Flipkens wouldn't get into Wimbledon but she kept building on her momentum and reached the second round of the US Open before falling to Victoria Azarenka, 62 62, though the World No.1 certainly had some complimentary words, including saying the match "wasn't as easy as the score looks".
But she wasn't originally going to come to Québec City. "I wasn't supposed to come here, but then a few people pulled out and I got into the main draw, so I said hey, I'll go to Québec City. I changed my plans and here I am."
Flipkens became the giant-killer all week, taking out No.1 seed Dominika Cibulkova and No.3 seed Mona Barthel en route to her first WTA final, then holding off big-serving No.8 seed Lucie Hradecka for the title, 61 75.
"I played really well and really aggressively in the first set," Flipkens said after the final. "I feel my only advantage in the second set was the break at 5-all - it was a really close match and I was down in a lot of the games I won.
"I have to give credit to Lucie - she came back strong in the second set."
But more important than the battle may have been the war - the feeling of coming back from those dark times and shining on center court, winning your first title - it all may have gotten the better of the Belgian afterwards.
"It's everything at once. Where do I start?" she said. "It's been a rough year for me. All the emotions come out when you win your first WTA title. I was No.260 in June - I didn't even get into the qualies of Wimbledon - and now I have my first WTA title. You can only imagine how I'm feeling now after all of this.
"This is the best day of my life."
Flipkens had also been speaking to Clijsters on the phone after every match this week - what about after Sunday's final? "We were on the phone already, yes!" she said. "Of course she's really happy for me. She has always been like a big sister for me. She stuck with me through all of the rough times too.
"It's strange - she retired just last week and now I win my first WTA title!"
On the other side of the net, Hradecka still may not have a WTA title, but she was playing in an impressive fifth WTA final. "Kirsten has a difficult game for me - a lot of slice, a lot of kick on the serve - she played very well," the Czech said. "It's tough to lose in a final again, but hopefully I can win my next one."
The doubles final took place earlier in the day, with No.3 seeds Tatjana Malek and Kristina Mladenovic missing out on six match points in the second set but still beating No.1 seeds Alicja Rosolska and Heather Watson in the ensuing match tie-break, 76(5) 67(6) 107. Mladenovic won her second WTA doubles title while Malek won a milestone first WTA title of any kind.