By John Delong
Four days ago, Romain Bogaerts arrived in Winston-Salem to start getting ready for his sophomore year at Wake Forest, after transferring from Mississippi State.
In the time since, his tennis career has changed dramatically.
The 19-year-old Belgian received the most-stunning and pleasant surprise of his life on Friday when he was informed that he had received a wild card into the Main Draw of this year’s Winston-Salem Open.
Bogaerts was hoping merely to get a wild card into qualifying along with some of his Deacon teammates, but when Bernard Tomic withdrew, it opened up a wild card berth in the 48-player Main Draw and tournament director Bill Oakes gave him the nod.
He’ll play Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei in his first round match either Sunday or Monday.
Bogaerts was still trying to comprehend his good fortune as first- and second-round qualifying moved indoors at the rain-soaked Wake Forest Tennis Complex.
"I don’t even know if I realize it yet," Bogaerts said. "It’s amazing. This morning I had breakfast, I saw all the pros I have seen on TV. It’s just like a dream. It’s great. I mean, I’ve been working for it. I have not proved that I have the level yet, but I mean, that’s what I’m working for every day, to play these kinds of tournaments."
Wake Forest men’s coach Tony Bresky delivered the good news in the form of a early-morning telephone call to Bogaerts’ hotel room; Bogaerts won’t move into his Wake Forest dormitory room until Monday.
"We talked about a wild card into qualifying a couple months ago when we were talking about transferring, and I was already so happy about that," Bogaerts said. "Then he called me two days ago, at like 7:30 in the morning. He said, ‘You’re not playing qualies,’ and I was disappointed. Then he said, ‘But you’re playing Main Draw,’ and I was like, ‘No way.’ I saw the other wild cards – Berdych, Verdasco, Fish – so, I mean, it’s just great. It’s probably the greatest experience tennis-wise of my life."
Bogaerts, who grew up in a Brussels suburb, had spent the summer playing in five Futures events in Belgium. He has a ranking of No. 1092 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings.
He had a fabulous freshman year at Mississippi State, earning national Newcomer of the Year honors as the No. 1 player on a Bulldog team that was ranked No. 10 nationally.
He decided to transfer to Wake Forest for several reasons, not the least of which was Wake Forest’s School of Business.
"The tennis was great at Mississippi State," Bogaerts said. "I played SEC, I played No. 1 and Mississippi State was ranked No. 10 the whole season so I had great matches. But academics were not great there and here it’s much, much better, and that’s one of the things I’m looking for. The Business School is great. I came to the U.S. to play tennis, but to get an education as well, so that was important.
"And the facilities, and the tournament being here, that all played a part, too. They go together. It’s great to play in such a nice facility and have indoor courts, outdoor courts, and the coaches are really good, and when you have an ATP event it breaks even more attention to it. So everything about the experience is great."
And for the next week, it’ll be especially great.
"One of the first people I called with the news was my coach back in Belgium," Bogaerts said. "He’s coached players like (Olivier) Rochus and he’s always told me how much of a difference it is with guys in the Top 100, how they play on the court and how they act off the court. They’re so professional. So now I can see it live and I can learn from it, and that’s great. I just want to enjoy as much as possible every minute of it."