By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - Kirsten Flipkens, a Belgian outsider whose tennis career almost flatlined a year ago after four blood clots were found in her calf, enjoyed a second lease of life as she stormed into her first Wimbledon semi-final on Tuesday.
The bespectacled Belgian threw her name into the hat of Wimbledon's giant-slayers by beating 2011 champion Petra Kvitova 4-6 6-3 6-4 on a floodlit Center Court.
Kvitova had been the last grand slam champion left in the women's draw but she joined Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na on the All England Club scrapheap after being suffocated under Center Court's closed roof.
The result completed a remarkable turnaround for a player who, after being ranked 262nd just 12 months ago, found herself arching backwards and roaring to the skies in her moment of triumph.
"It's amazing, it's more than a dream come true. To be in the semi-finals of a grand slam is ridiculous," a wide-eyed Flipkens, nicknamed Flipper, said as she tried to digest her success.
"I still can't believe it"
One person who did believe in her was her friend and training partner Kim Clijsters.
"Still drying my eyes :-)) So proud of how @FlipperKF handled the big occasion for the first time," the former world number one tweeted even before Flipkens had walked off court.
Kvitova had been installed as a title favorite after all the pre-tournament front-runners fell by the wayside but she paid the price for a rush of blood in the ninth game of the third set when she charged to the net and fired a forehand volley long at break point down.
The Czech eighth seed, who gulped down a tablet and had her temperature checked when trailing 5-2 in the second set, was left to swallow a bitter pill as she watched Flipkens fire an ace on match point to seal her fate.
A stony-faced Kvitova was not convinced that it had been a winning shot, challenging Hawk-eye to overturn the call.
To all those watching on Center Court, it only delayed the inevitable as the puff of white chalk dust had confirmed Kvitova's demise.
"I got some virus last night. It was quite tricky for me. I was ... (feeling) sick and I had a sore throat," explained Kvitova.
"I felt pretty dizzy and tired and sleepy, so for sure (that) didn't help me. But that's not an excuse ... because Kirsten played very well. I fought ... but unfortunately it wasn't enough."
While Kvitova headed back to her sickbed to get some much needed rest, 11 million Belgians were backing Flipkens to go all the way and win a title that was beyond the reach of Belgian tennis greats Justine Henin and Clijsters.
As Flipkens looked forward to her semi-final against 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli, there was only one person she wanted to thank.
"Kim (Clijsters) was one of the few people last year still believing in me, I really have to thank her. People who were believing me I could count on one hand but I'm just enjoying every moment now."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)