Zizou Bergs: No. 528 In The World, No. 1 In Belgian Hearts

Zizou Bergs (photo: European Open)

WASHINGTON/ANTWERP, October 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Twenty-one-year-old Belgian wild card Zizou Bergs, ranked No. 528, wasn’t originally supposed to be in the main draw of the European Open, an ATP 250 indoor hardcourt tournament taking place this week, in Antwerp, Belgium. Then, Bergs was given a late wild card as a replacement for 221st-ranked countryman Ruben Bemelmans, who recently tested positive for Covid-19 and was withdrawn from the tournament.

As it happened Tuesday evening, Bergs lived and played in the moment – pumping himself up along the way – and guess what? He won his first ATP main draw match with an emotion-filled 7-5, 7-5 victory against No. 45 Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, who had 459 more tour-level matches of experience. After securing match point, the 6-foot-1 (185 cm), 182-pound (83 kg) Bergs exchanged some high-fives and let out a huge roar of approval that followed his one hour and 42-minute Center Court victory.

“I’m definitely a guy who enjoys emotions. I have amazing friends, amazing family and I’m playing at home in Belgium, in Antwerp,” Bergs, who was born in Lommel and is now a resident of Neerpelt, said shortly after his victory during a hastily organized, virtual videoconference that was conducted in both English and French languages.

“I just love emotions. I love screaming it out and seeing the [fans’] reactions. “It’s just really why I want to play tennis, because I like the atmosphere. Those are things that I live for. It’s the way I want to play , it’s the way I want to enjoy the games. It’s my nature.”

Bergs, who had played qualifying in three previous European Open tournaments but never the main draw, drew upon his past experience of facing Pierre Hugues-Herbert, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime. “Today I proved that I took the experience from the past times and I just kept fighting,” Bergs said. “Eventually things turned my way. It was very nice.”

Bergs began the year playing in assorted ITF World Tennis Tour M15 tournaments in Tunisia, Greece and Qatar, and more recently a couple of minor clay tournaments in the Czech Republic. So, garnering a place in his home country’s biggest professional tournament was a nice recognition given the affable and well-spoken Belgian, who said he’s a big fan of the Davis Cup and ATP Cup tournaments.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Bergs, one of three Belgians in the main draw – along with No. 1 seed David Goffin and wild card Kimmer Coppejans – why he won and what he learned from the main draw experience, he explained: “I think it was a great game. I was training really good. Sometimes, I was a bit surprised when I was playing the big guys in training how good in points with [my] results. The belief came and I was full of confidence. Although the results lately were not what I wanted in other tournaments, I knew the level was there and I was actually very confident I could win today, especially against a player like Vinolas. He has a game I like. I just played my own game.”

Bergs, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set before settling down, finished with seven aces and won 60 percent of his service points. He saved six of the nine break points he faced and broke Vinolas five times – the final time to secure victory. Bergs outpointed his opponent 75-68 to advance against World No. 17 Karen Khachanov of Russia, seeded third, on Thursday.

“What did I learn?” Bergs asked. I learned when I was up in games to definitely finish it easy, simple and not to do some crazy stuff.”

Tough times for Nishikori, who withdraws with an injured shoulder

On Tuesday morning, before the first match had even reached the Lotto Arena Center Court, 35th-ranked Kei Nishikori withdrew from the tournament. He cited a right shoulder injury. These have become tough times for the personable 30-year-old Japanese star, whose career has mostly been shelved for the past year.

During to an elbow injury suffered following the 2019 US Open, Nishikori’s 2020 season has been limited to just six matches – all of them on clay – since the beginning of September. He missed playing the Western & Southern Open and the US Open during the summer after testing positive for Covid-19. After recovering from the coronavirus, Nishikori played tournaments in Kitzbuhel, Rome, Hamburg and Paris in September, losing twice in the first round and twice in the second round, in compiling a 2-4 win-loss record.

During a media day interview earlier this week, Nishikori said, “First time here in Antwerp and you know this tournament has a lot of history, great facility. So, yeah, I am looking forward to play.”

When Nishikori was asked about his latest injury, he said he didn’t know why it happened – maybe the weather, heavier balls? – but didn’t think it was serious.

Nishikori was replaced in the singles draw by lucky loser Federico Coria of Argentina, ranked 86th, who lost to No. 55 Pablo Andújar of Spain, 6-2, 6-3. Nishikori was also scratched from the doubles draw.

De Minaur rallies over Gasquet 

Just two days after winning the Ultimate Tennis Showdown 3, eighth seed Alex de Minaur needed a third-set rally to overcome 54th-ranked Richard Gasquet of France, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a featured match Tuesday evening.

The 34-year-old Gasquet, a former World No. 7, was unable to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set. Instead, the 21-year-old from Australia pulled even, won the middle set in a tie break, and controlled the final set.

De Minaur finished with six service aces, won 73 percent of his points on his first serve and saved four break points against Gasquet. He broke his French opponent four times in 12 tries. De Minaur outpointed Gasquet 103-95. Next, he will face No. 62 Feliciano Lopez of Spain in Wednesday’s second round.

In other Tuesday matches:

• No. 35 Dan Evans of Great Britain advanced over 79th-ranked Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in back of nine service aces and four breaks of Caruso’s serve. Next, he will face first-day winner Frances Tiafoe of the United States, ranked 63rd.

• No. 70 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain defeated 100th-ranked qualifier Emil Ruusuvuori from Finland, 6-3, 7-6 (4) and next will face either fifth seed Milos Raonic of Canada or Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia.

• No. 94 Marcos Giron of the United States, who reached the main draw through qualifying, beat 917th-ranked wild card Luca Nardi of Italy 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, and will face top seed David Goffin.

• No. 90 qualifier Lloyd Harris of South Africa defeated No. 74 Corentin Moutet from France, 7-5, 6-2. He will await Wednesday’s winner between American No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz and fellow countryman Reilly Opelka.