Challenger Flashback: When Bergs Defeated His Coach En Route To Ilkley Title
Zizou Bergs is aiming to defend his title this week at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Ilkley, but this time around the Belgian will not have to face his coach Ruben Bemelmans, whom he defeated en route to the ‘biggest title of his career’ one year ago.
The 24-year-old Bergs started working with former World No. 84 Bemelmans just three weeks before they were standing across the net from each other at the Ilkley Trophy last season. Ahead of the tournament, Bergs was enjoying dinner with his team when Bemelmans checked his phone and saw the Ilkley Challenger qualifying draw for the first time.
“He started laughing super hard and I was like, 'Don't say we play each other first round!’” Bergs recalled to ATPTour.com. “It's actually quite funny. It was crazy, we looked at the draws, first round of qualies against each other. He was there as my coach but also as a player. We started working part-time around the time of Roland Garros.”
The next day, then-ranked No. 207 Bergs defeated Bemelmans 7-6(5), 6-4 at the grass-court event and later advanced to the main draw. He did not stop there.
Bergs went on a dream title run and saved a championship point to down Jack Sock in the final.
“After our match, Ruben stayed in Ilkley to coach me. Straight away, I won my biggest title,” Bergs said. “That was definitely a special moment.”
Bemelmans’ qualifying match against Bergs, which was his penultimate match as a pro player, is one that will be a story for them to tell for years to come.
“I remember my first match point I was like, 'This could be the last point of Ruben Bemelmans!'” Bergs said. “Then the second match point again… Then it happened and I felt so bad that I won that match because his career was like over. But then after the match I said, 'Are you fine?' and he said, 'Yeah, it was emotional, but I really had fun this match and I played well, so I'm very satisfied.'”
Zizou Bergs triumphs at the 2022 Ilkley Trophy. Credit: Lewis Storey/Getty Images for LTA
In October, the 35-year-old Bemelmans received a qualifying wild card at the ATP 250 event in Antwerp, where he put a bow on his career in front of a home crowd. Bergs has continued his progress on the ATP Challenger Tour. In February, he reached a career-high No. 112 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and two months later, he captured his fifth Challenger title in Tallahassee, Florida.
Bergs will next begin his Ilkley Challenger title defence Sunday against fifth seed Jurij Rodionov.