Maria Sharapova advances to quarter-finals in Aussie Open
Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens in their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP / Dita Alangkara)
Published Sunday, January 20, 2013 9:11AM EST
MELBOURNE, Australia -- After the year she's had, a lopsided loss to Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open is an event Kirsten Flipkens can keep in perspective.
Nine months ago, Flipkens flew from a tournament in Thailand to her native Belgium and stepped off the plane with extreme pain in her calf. She went to a doctor and was told she had blood clots in both legs.
"My life could have been over," the 27-year-old Flipkens said after her 6-1, 6-0 fourth-round loss to French Open champion Sharapova on Sunday.
"I found out only two days before I left for Fed Cup to Japan," she said. "The doctor told me, 'If you would have stepped on the plane, there would have been a chance that you would have come out blue."' It was the doctor's way of telling Flipkens that it could have been fatal.
That wasn't the end of the bad news. A couple weeks after the blood clots were discovered, she said, the Belgian Tennis Federation cut off her funding. She took two months off to recover, during which time her ranking tumbled from 182nd to 262nd.
"There were not a lot of people still trusting in me last year," she said. "I could count them on one hand."
One of the people still believing in her was good friend and compatriot Kim Clijsters, who offered her support. Flipkens is now training at Clijsters' tennis academy.
"She's just always there for me if I need her, as a friend or as a tennis player or as a mentor," Flipkens said.
The Belgian not only revived her career, she started playing her best tennis. She won her maiden WTA title at Quebec City last year, and last week reached a career-high ranking of 43rd. Her ranking is sure to rise further after her fourth-round showing at the Australian Open -- her best result at a Grand Slam.
Against Sharapova, however, Flipkens didn't have much of a chance. She only managed four winners in the match, compared with 25 for the second-seeded Russian.
"I think Maria was just too good. She's playing on a really high level," she said. "For me, it was just going too quickly today."
With her doctor's help, Flipkens is planning a full schedule this year. She now takes blood thinners before long-haul flights and wears compression socks on the plane to avoid another serious clotting problem.
She has new perspective on her tennis career, too.
"I proved now I can still play tennis," she said. "The main thing I did today was trying to enjoy it."