Tennis Spotlight: Joran Vliegen Shares His Experiences Climbing Through The Doubles Ranks

In this Week’s Tennis Spotlight we learned about life on tour; from ITFS, challengers, ATP 250’s, and making it into Grand Slams. Joran Vliegen was born in Belgium and raised in Belgium. He played college tennis at East Carolina University, where he had a successful collegiate tennis career. He played his first full year on tour in 2015. Read more to find out about his life, experiences on tour transitioning through the ranks, and more. See his latest ranking and results here. Check out his Instagram page here.

  1. When did you fall in love with tennis?

Joran: I started playing at the age of 5 and I had to choose between volleyball and tennis when I was 12. It was hard for me to decide, because I was pretty good at both and my dad played volleyball.

  1. What made you choose East Carolina?

Joran: East Carolina University was not my first choice. My college recruiting experience was a little stressful but I am happy with how it worked out. I was supposed to play at Georgia Southern, but that coach got fired 6 weeks before I was headed there. A spot at ECU opened up and I was happy to be able to take it.

Credit: East Carolina
  1. Would you recommend the path you took?

Joran: Everyone is different. When I went to college I was young and had not matured yet. Some players who have the potential to be top 100 in the world may be mature at that age. I would say though, that you should go the college tennis route because most would not be that mature yet.

  1. You played your first ever pro tournament with Sander Gille on 6-24-2013, what is your relationship like and how has it grown over the years of playing together on tour? And, how important is it to have a doubles partner also be a good friend?

Joran: We both played college, he’s 2 years older than me and started on tour 2 years before me. We know each other well and live close to each other. You get to know the personality of the other person and it’s important to act accordingly with that so that the team can perform at its best. I always think that a set doubles partner is better than to switch every week. You need to have some sort of connection.

  1. 2015 was your first full year on tour. What was it like traveling to play doubles in these futures tournaments? 

Joran: I started playing singles first of course, and signed up in doubles to gain some of that lost money back. It’s expensive. You have to pay for everything and not much prize money comes back. We did well because we had that college background where doubles is very important.

  1.  Did traveling with Sander make those trips easier?

Joran: We lived close to each other and it helped having another person there to make decisions with. It was less lonely too. Two minds are better than one. We could figure out together how we were going to spend the least amount of money to play somewhere. 

Credit: Chris Staples/USTA
  1. When you won your first challenger title in 2016, did that prove to yourself that you are ready for the next level?

Joran: It was our 3rd challenger that we played, so it was exciting. We knew that we could do well in the challengers because we had only played two before we won one. It gave us confidence.

  1. Was the lifestyle different when playing challengers vs ITF’s?

Joran: As you start to play higher level tournaments, you start to save money. In challengers you get your housing paid for, so that was a crucial area where we could save money. Also, the prize money was better vs ITFs, so it is a better situation overall.

  1. In October 2017, you played your first ATP 250 Event in Antwerp. You played against the Bryan Bros and lost a close match. Did that excite you for what’s to come? Was it a big confidence boost?

Joran: It showed us that we can play at that level and are not miles away in terms of readiness. It gave us some reassurance and confidence. It was exciting. We didn’t get killed, and we played a good match. We knew that we might have an opportunity to get to that next level if we were to work hard.

Credit: GettyImages AsiaPac
  1. Why did you decide to stop playing singles? 

Joran: Sander and I were travelling to tournaments together, and we were both top 600 in the world in singles. We were getting into doubles challenger tournaments, but not singles. We had to decide to stop playing singles because we thought that we would make it much further on the doubles tour. We saw ourselves getting to 350 in singles but that’s it. We felt there were more opportunities in doubles. Also, the combination is very tough and takes a toll on the body. We had to deal with some injuries so the decision was easily made.

  1. What was going through your head when you were asked to represent your country in the Davis cup for the first time? 

Joran: It is everyone’s dream to represent their country so it was a special moment. To be able to play with your country’s flag on the shirt is an unbelievable feeling. I hope to continue to do so!

  1. 2019 was a special year for you. You played in a few grand slams and made QF of French, Finals of Davis Cup, and the QF of new ATP cup. You also won 3 ATP 250 events, what helped propel you to have such an amazing year?

Joran: We played an amazing Davis Cup tie in Brazil in the beginning of 2019. We knew the level could be there and that it was a matter of time and a bit of luck of everything falling into place. We then split for French open because we were always alternating in slams. I happened to make QF which allowed us to play Wimbledon together. In the summer we won 2 ATP’s in a row and that’s how the ball started rolling. 

Credit: Kazakhstan’s Tennis Federation
  1. What was your favorite memory of 2020?

Joran: ATP Cup was very fun. It’s a new exciting initiative when you play as a team for your country with slightly different aspects than Davis Cup. 

Credit: Team Belgium
  1. How did Covid-19 affect your year on tour? How many tournaments did it prevent you from playing?

Joran: We didn’t play for 6 months and then we just followed the calendar and played every event there was. We played every week from mid August to mid November. Rankings are frozen so it was only a bonus for us to try and close the gap between us and the top 30.

  1. How would you describe the life of an ATP Doubles Player?

Joran: Pretty fun. I feel like the doubles guys are pretty relaxed with each other. We always practice together and see each other every week. We don’t have the 3-4 people teams that singles guys have so that helps us connect even more.

  1. Can you talk about this difference in doubles prize money compared to singles?

Joran: It’s a big difference. I agree that singles should earn more but sometimes the gap is too large. They should broadcast doubles more as well, lots of people want to watch it.

  1. What has been your biggest setback during your career? And how did you bounce back from it?

Joran: I didn’t really have one big setback. There were multiple small setbacks going from not getting in tournaments to having small injuries. 

  1. If you could give 3 words to describe how tennis has influenced you, what would they be?

Joran: Maturity, Joy, Blessed

  1. What does 2021 look like for you? 

Joran: I do not know yet. We are waiting to hear back from Australia, calendar updates, and this whole covid situation is not going away either. We will see where we end up. It is hard to tell what is going to happen in 6 months. We have to look at it day by day and play one tournament at a time.

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