East Carolina University tennis alumnus and the No. 104 doubles player in the world Joran Vliegen and his doubles partner are one win away from qualifying to play at Wimbledon next week.
Vliegen played for the Pirates from 2010-2014 and finished his Pirates’ career voted to first team All-Conference USA and ranked No. 28 in singles as a senior. His current partner is Sander Gille, who is ranked No. 84 in the world.
Vliegen, a native of Maaseik, Belgium, showed his potential right away for the Pirates when he arrived in 2010, going 18-7 in singles matches as a freshman and winning 17 in straight sets. Joran improved in his sophomore season, playing 19 of his 20 matches at the No.1 position, and becoming the first player in program history to earn a ITA National Ranking. Vliegen finished the year with a 14-6 singles record and made it to the round of 32 in singles at the ITA Carolinas Regional and with teammate Nicholas Soriano, advanced to the round of 16 at the regional in doubles.
Men’s tennis head coach Shawn Heinchon saw the obvious talent in Vliegen when he arrived at ECU, but he admits that playing in Wimbledon was not something he predicted during Vliegen’s first years with the Pirates.
“Saying that I saw this coming would be a stretch,” Heinchon said. “He had all the talent in the world when he got to East Carolina, and he was only 17. At the beginning, his tennis game was too inconsistent, but the talent and the skill set was always there. Knowing someone can go on to compete in Wimbledon and have a top 100 doubles ranking in the world is so hard to predict, and it really is a testament to Joran’s hard work and dedication to the sport.”
Vliegen continued his success for the Pirates in his junior year, compiling 17-0 doubles record with partner Colin Roller, and the duo peaked at No. 64 in the ITA doubles rankings. Vliegen also became the first player in Pirate history to be included in the ITA singles rankings, and the second player to receive and invitation to the NCAA Championships. These achievements earned All-Conference honors in singles and doubles for Vliegen, as well as a trip to the Carolina Regionals.
Vliegen continued to pile on the accolades in his senior season, as he compiled a singles record of 32-8 to go along with a 20-6 doubles record on the way to winning the ITA Carolina Region singles title for the first time in school history. His feats earned him Conference USA Player-of-the-Year, and ECU’s most outstanding male scholar athlete. Vliegen also became the first player in school history to compete in the NCAA men’s singles championships.
Vliegen’s growth on the court during his years as a Pirate are evident in the many titles and first he achieved for the Pirates, and his work ethic carried over into other aspects of his life. Vliegen earned his bachelor’s degree in business in three years’, and continued to work on his MBA while a senior.
As Vliegen plays today to decide his future at Wimbledon, Heinchon attributes Vliegen’s success after leaving the Pirates to this work ethic, and sees a bright future for his former player.
“As a coach, any time you have a guy who is hungry for a career in tennis is great,” Heinchon said, “Those guys won’t peak, they’ll continue to get better and improve through college like Joran did and continues to do.”