Zizou Bergs: Challenger Tour Star Who Donates Gear To Africa
Players on the ATP Challenger Tour often carry impactful stories that go relatively untold.
Such is the case with Belgian Zizou Bergs, who has been donating tennis equipment to the African country Burundi for eight years. A five-time Challenger Tour champion, the 23-year-old recently triumphed at the Tallahassee Challenger just a few weeks after his grandfather passed away. Bergs’ life off the court is a story within itself.
Following an eye-opening trip to Burundi at age 15, the Belgian No. 2 quickly developed a contact, Marcel Van der Haegen, in the East African country and has since donated tennis clothes and equipment.
“I still have that project going on,” Bergs told ATPTour.com. “We're not always aware about it, but you have so much and sometimes feel like you have little. You grow up in a very good culture, in a very good country and you think everything is quite normal that you have all these clothes, shoes, racquets, you can string whenever you want, get great food at the table every day. That is not common [there], it really opened my eyes. They would play with my [stuff], even if it was like five sizes too big, they would still play with it. That really touched me.”
Earlier this month, Burundi hosted an ITF Women’s 25K event. Bergs received word from a friend at the tournament that while she was there, she noticed several guys around the capital city Bujumbura who were wearing his clothes and playing with the racquets he’s donated over the years.
“That was heartwarming that they're so grateful for that,” Bergs said. “I definitely have enough clothes to keep sending them every year. At a certain point, Yonex [started] helping us too. We're definitely grateful that Yonex is also willing to support me and the project I have, even though it's very small. It's important to me that it's not only taking, because tennis has given me a lot. It's giving back and I really like that in this project.”
This season has been bittersweet for Bergs. The first two months of the year, the Lommel native qualified for the Australian Open and reached a career-high No. 112. Last week, Bergs triumphed at the Tallahassee Challenger, where he didn’t drop a set en route to the title.
As he lifted the trophy in Florida, one person was on his mind; his grandfather, who passed away just a month prior.
“It was very emotional actually,” Bergs said. “Never experienced tears in my eyes after a win, but this one was a little different because my grandfather passed away a few weeks ago when I was in Miami. Ever since, I didn't have the chance to go home, so I had to follow his funeral from a distance. He was my biggest fan, he would text me after every match.
Zizou Bergs triumphs in Tallahassee, Florida. Credit: Tallahassee Tennis Challenger
“Every match he would give me a whole analysis of what happened and give me things to work on. I really hoped he would continue doing that just in a different way, and it definitely happened. He was present that week, I won that with him. It was very emotional and special.”
Full of passion and emotion on court, Bergs chooses to remember his grandfather by living out core values he saw in his life. As he followed his grandfather’s funeral from a different continent, Bergs noticed three principles that consistently came up when loved ones reflected on his grandfather’s life.
“I got to know him better as I was getting older and was more conscious about what was happening,” Bergs said. “Also the time he was sick, I got to know him better. The first value was positivity. He would always be positive that there was something that would help him, thinking everything was going to be okay. He wasn't worried at all, he was a happy man.
“The second one was being combative, because he was always ready to fight. He was struggling for years with his health and for everything that came up, he would be ready to fight and do anything necessary that was needed.
“The third one was solution-oriented. He was always finding solutions in his job, with the family, he would not be complaining. If something wasn't working in my career, I'd go to his home with my parents and we'd talk about it. He'd come up with possible solutions. I felt like these core values could be really good in tennis. They were great values to learn from and stick with me in the future.”
While Bergs will always remember his grandfather, it’s safe to say that there are tennis players in Burundi who will always be aware of the Belgian star.