Flipkens hits comeback trail to semi-finals

AP, LONDON

Thu, Jul 04, 2013 - Page 20

When Kirsten Flipkens found herself sidelined with a blood clot last year, her list of true supporters grew thinner by the day.

One who was always on that list was a fellow Belgian, Kim Clijsters.

Clijsters was in tears at home on Tuesday, watching on TV as Flipkens took the next step on a comeback that landed her in the Wimbledon semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova.

“Still drying my eyes,” Clijsters tweeted. “So proud of how @FlipperKF handled the big occasion for the first time.”

Indeed, 20th seed Flipkens handled the pressure of her first Grand Slam quarter-final with ease.

It has been a long road back for the former Wimbledon and US Open junior champion, who developed a blood clot in her leg last year, then missed two months and dropped outside the top 250 — so low that she could not 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 semis since Justine Henin in 2007, but her true bond was with Clijsters. She gave credit to the four-time Grand Slam winner 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 semi-finals today, Flipkens faces No. 15 Marion Bartoli, a 6-4, 7-5 winner over world No. 17 Sloane Stephens in a match interrupted by rain with Stephens serving down 5-4 at deuce.

After a delay of nearly two-and-a-half 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 semi-finalists nobody could have predicted.

“Very unexpected, but that’s also the magic of it,” said Bartoli, who is in her first Grand Slam semi-final since the French Open in 2011.

The other semi-final pits world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland against No. 23 Sabine Lisicki, the German who ousted Serena Williams on Tuesday.

Showing no signs of a drop-off after snapping Williams’ 34-match winning streak, Lisicki dismantled world No. 46 Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3.

The match took 65 minutes, then Lisicki sat back and watched the rest of the quarter-finals play out through a series of rain delays, three-set matches and injury timeouts, which included one stop for eighth seed 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,”Kvitova said after falling to Flipkens.

Meanwhile, Lisciki became the bookies favorite for the tournament after her win over Williams. She even bumped Britain’s favorite player, Andy Murray, off the back pages of a few of the British newspapers.

Radwanska is also taking a “happy-to-be-there” approach after her 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-2 victory over 2011 French Open champion Li Na.

“Now I’m just more relaxed... Semi-final — 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 on Tuesday only 1-7 in Grand Slam quarter-finals, but made the kind of stand she usually does not at that stage, saving four set points while Li served at 5-4 in the first set.

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 last year became Poland’s first major finalist in 73 years.

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, who she faced when they were juniors playing under-12 events.

“Time flies and suddenly we are here playing [the] semi-final of a Grand Slam,” Radwanska said.

In the women’s doubles yesterday, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei reached the semi-finals after she and Peng Shuai of China beat Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 6-4, 7-5.

The No. 8 seeds proved altogether more consistent than their opponents, getting more first serves in, making fewer errors and avoiding any double faults.

Hsieh and Peng will face the winners of the quarter-final between No. 16 seeds Julia Goerges of Germany and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic, and Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa, who are unseeded.

Both Hsieh and Peng have improved on their best-ever women’s doubles performances at the All England Club, Hsieh having reached the third round in 2010 and last year, and Peng making the quarter-finals in 2007 and 2011.

The Taiwanese-Chinese duo claimed the Italian Open in May by defeating No. 1 ranked pair Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci of Italy at the Foro Italico in Rome.

Additional reporting by staff writer