Myself, Kristof Vliegen, how did I get to the tennis world and how everything started for.
When I was about four, I held a tennis racket in my hands for the first time. I was in kindergarten, in my native village of Maaseik (Limbourg). I got addicted to it very fast. My coach at the time would take me to her place on Wednesday afternoon, after the tennis lesson, for me to play more. This happened almost every week. I soon got fond of competing, so the next step, that of tournaments, came naturally.
Without me being aware of it, some coaches in charge of gathering the « best » players of each age category in the province of Limbourg were already keeping an eye on me. Therefore, I was further selected to take part in the VTV (the Flemish tennis federation) regional trainings in Genk several times a week. But it was not enough, my ambition was to be in the top 100 one day. A childhood dream which would later become reality.
At 12, I went to the Flemish tennis school in Wilrijk. I had been invited one year before, but my parents were rather reluctant to let me go away from home. To tell you how ambitious I was at the time, at the age of 12, I became the champion of Belgium for the first time.
While in school, I recall the junior circuit with pretty good results. The quarterfinals in Roland Garros and Wimbledon were some amazing moments. Shining on courts which I had only seen on TV gave me even more motivation to the future. A small dream come true. The cherry on top was winning the doubles title in Wimbledon at the age of 18. Thanks to these excellent results, I could take part in the European championships in Klosters, where I went up to the quarterfinals. At the end of 2000, I was honoured with the « young player of the year” title.
The real work was just about to start. I decided to train in the Brussels area. Thus, I could train with the best players. I was also hoping to go up the rankings fast. I got a place in Wavre, like that I was also closer to the airport, quite useful given my frequent travelling to international competitions.
After playing 2 years in the Futures and Challenger tournaments, my ranking was high enough to allow me to travel to the “land of kangaroos”. A big first time for me, Australia. I was in my twenties at the time and I was qualified for the Australian Open. Before that, I did a preparatory tournament, I came out of the qualifiers to lose the final. This result allowed me to reach my goal: the Top 100!
Starting that moment, I was running at full speed, going through success and failure, wins and painful defeats. The Davis Cup suddenly also became an objective: defending the colours of one’s country is hard to explain and the feeling one has while listening to the national anthem is unbelievable; I can only recall getting goose bumps! This feeling of pride for one’s homeland, it was just magic ! It was at that point when I realised something else : if you want, you can ! In 2005 I managed to defeat Novak Djokovic and in 2007, Lleyton Hewitt, 2 great names in the world of tennis.
2006 was the best year of my career.
I got the most of wins with the best results, which allowed for my best ranking: number 30 in the ATP tour. Out of a sudden, I was a seed in the Grand Chelem tournaments. One more time I was achieving my goal.
The bad luck surfaced in 2009: my injuries got more and more frequent, too frequent. Sad conclusion: I had to put an end to my dream life in 2011. A hard blow, as the best years were yet to come. My dream was over. I had been living my passion for the past twenty years, there were twenty years of work and pleasure, twenty years of tennis.
Fortunately, I quickly had the opportunity to become a coach. Already as a player, I was screening the young talents and I was following their development from a distance.
For the past 5 years I worked with great guys. Sam Barry, for instance, an Irish who achieved his best ranking with me as a coach.
My relationship with the Griekspoor boys will forever stay with me. I am very proud of these two players who have become part of the Netherlands Davis Cup team. I have also been working with Joris de Loore and Arthur de Greef, two guys that defended Belgium’s national colours.