LONDON, England - While a lot of the focus at Wimbledon has been on the huge upsets that have taken place over the last two weeks, there has been just about as feel good a story as possible brewing in the bottom half of the draw, as Kirsten Flipkens has continued her inspiring ascent to greatness.
Having spent years as a Top 100 player, Flipkens' career - and her life - were turned upside down last spring. Blood clots caused her to sit out for two months, during which she lost the support of her federation and watched her ranking plummet. She would go as far down as No.262 in the world, and at this time last year she couldn't even get into Wimbledon qualies. Needless to say, times were tough.
"I had lost the support of the federation and not many people still believed in me," Flipkens told wtatennis.com about the ordeal. "When everything is going well, everyone's your friend. But in hard times you learn who your friends are. But I knew I could fight back and prove them all wrong."
And that she did - she racked up dozens of wins on the ITF Women's Circuit during the summer then captured her first WTA title at Québec City in the fall, finishing the year just outside the Top 50. She didn't stop there, either, breaking the Top 50 going into the Australian Open, reaching her first Grand Slam second week at the Australian Open, breaking the Top 20 after the French Open and then reaching another final just before Wimbledon, at the grass court tune-up event in 's-Hertogenbosch.
Having made the quarterfinals without dropping a set, the No.20-seeded Flipkens lost a tight first set but rebounded in a big way, her big forehands, lethal slices and sharp net play just too much for Kvitova, and with an emphatic ace she closed out the No.8-seeded Czech on Centre Court, 46 63 64.
"I think I still don't really realize what I've managed to go through today and what I've achieved today," Flipkens said in her press conference. "Last year, as everybody knows already, I didn't even get into the qualifying of Wimbledon. I was ranked No.262; today I'm a semifinalist in a Grand Slam.
"It's a dream - more than a dream - coming true. There are no words."
After all the setbacks, what kept her going is what keeps all the biggest champions going.
"The love for the sport," Flipkens 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, then the year after I had a really bad back injury. All the doctors said my career would be over normally. But I'm just the kind of person that doesn't like to break, and I just keep on fighting back every time.
"Yeah, I don't regret my decision last year to keep fighting back."
The theme of fighting back was carried right into her latest victory over Kvitova, who wasn't just a former champion here, but a standout every year - she had won 19 of her last 21 matches here.
"I think in the first set she played really, really well," Flipkens said of Kvitova's performance. "She was putting me under pressure from the first moment. Normally my kind of game is to come to the net as often as I can. I think at 64 32 for her, that was the first time I was able to come to the net. She's just a great champion. Of course I had nothing to lose today - but you still have to go out there and do it.
"I never expected this to happen in my life. It was already a great performance that I managed to get into the fourth round in the Australian Open this year, but being in the semifinals of a Grand Slam, of the biggest tournament of the year, it has no words. I never expected I would come this far."