Photo: Philippe BuissinStephane Houdet (FRA)
2012 NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters - Full List of Entries
A host of Paralympic medallists are among the 20 players set to contest this week’s NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters, which takes place on 7-11 November at Heiveld Tennis Centre, Mechelen, Belgium.
World No. 1 Stephane Houdet (FRA) will be looking to retain his men’s singles title while Shingo Kunieda (JPN) is aiming to win his first NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters crown. Meanwhile, after the withdrawal of Esther Vergeer there will be a new named added to the women’s singles roll of honour and world No. 1 David Wagner of USA heads the quad singles entry.
After becoming the first player to win back-to-back Paralympic men’s singles gold medals at London 2012, Shingo Kunieda will hope to finally secure the only major singles title in the sport to have so far eluded him. Kunieda had surgery in February on the elbow that kept him out of last year’s NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters and subsequently saw him lose his world No. 1 ranking for the first time in four years.
Since then two players have occupied the No. 1 spot, 2011 ITF World Champion Maikel Scheffers and current world No. 1 Houdet.
Houdet has had the closest matches with Kunieda since the Japanese player’s return to the NEC Tour in May, defeating Kunieda in a final set tiebreak at Roland Garros, where Houdet won his first Grand Slam title, but then losing to Kunieda at the BNP Paribas French Open Super Series a few weeks later.
Kunieda is unbeaten in 21 matches since losing to Houdet in the Roland Garros final and appears to have returned to his best form. If he arrives in Belgium fit and healthy, he is likely to be the player to beat, but his last NEC Masters campaign ended in the semifinals.
Scheffers and Ronald Vink of the Netherlands will be among the leading contenders to emerge from the group phase of the competition and reach the semifinals, along with Argentina’s Gustavo Fernandez, who beat Scheffers, Vink and Houdet en route to winning his first Super Series title at the Japan Open in May.
Other threats will be former two-time NEC Masters champion Stefan Olsson of Sweden and Frenchman Michael Jeremiasz, who started 2012 unbeaten in 20 matches, but Jeremiasz has not beaten a Top four ranked player since the end of March. Meanwhile, Gordon Reid becomes just the second Briton to contest the men’s singles at the NEC Masters after making his debut inside the world’s top eight at the cut-off for the event.
After finishing runner-up in the women’s singles at the 2011 NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters and subsequently finishing last season as world No. 2 for the first time, Aniek van Koot has been the top ranked Dutchwoman after Esther Vergeer ever since.
The withdrawal of 14-time champion Vergeer from this year’s NEC Masters guarantees a new name will be added to the roll of honour and van Koot’s silver medal-winning performance at the London 2012 Paralympics marks her out as arguably the favourite.
Without Vergeer, the competition for places in the semifinals should be even more fascinating. The Dutch challenge remains formidable, with van Koot, Jiske Griffioen and Marjolein Buis all being semifinalists in 2011. However, Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany, the highest ranked non-Dutch player, has beaten both van Koot and Buis this season.
Ellerbrock did get amongst the Dutch players at London 2012, arriving at the Paralympics as fourth seed and despite being beaten in the bronze medal match by Griffioen, Ellerbrock went on to reach a career best ranking of No. 3 in a season that has seen her win her first Super Series title at the Japan Open. After finishing seventh in the field of eight on her NEC Masters debut last year, Ellerbrock will hope for a much stronger performance this year.
Sharon Walraven, eighth last year, completes the five-strong Dutch contingent, while Britain’s Lucy Shuker, who just missed out on the semifinals in 2010, will hope she can launch a strong challenge once again. Meanwhile, Annick Sevenans of Belgium is guaranteed to have strong home support after improving on her eighth seeding in 2011 to finish sixth.
Vergeer’s withdrawal has given South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane the chance to become the first African player to contest the NEC Masters and Montjane’s record this season includes wins over several of her higher ranked peers, including van Koot.
In 2011 the quad singles provided a fascinating contest from the start, with Noam Gershony (ISR) making a stunning comeback against fellow NEC Masters debutant Andrew Lapthorne (GBR) in the final to lift the title.
Gershony’s withdrawal from this year’s event means that Wagner is likely to be the player to beat. The American has won most NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters quad singles titles, but the last of his four titles came back in 2008, However, he is still the world No.1 and will come into this year’s event as top seed.
Lapthorne will be back to try and go one better than last year and will be the only one flying the British flag in the absence of former champion Peter Norfolk. American Nick Taylor is among an entry that includes all three medallists from the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Sweden’s Anders Hard completes this year’s entry.