16 Jul 2017

De Groot seals first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon

News Article

By Clive White

Photo: Takeo TanumaDiede de Groot (NED)

WIMBLEDON: Two years ago the great Esther Vergeer named Diede De Groot as her long term successor. That assessment looked as though it could soon be coming to fruition because the 20-year-old Dutch girl was an impressive winner of her first Grand Slam title on Saturday when she beat Sabine Ellerbrock 60 64 to win the Wimbledon  wheelchair ladies singles ttile. It could be the first of many major titles.

She had beaten her compatriot Aniek van Koot, the conqueror of Jiske Griffioen, the No. 1 seed, in the first round, emphatically on Friday and this win against the 41-year-old German was similarly clinical. On this evidence it was hard to believe that she had lost to the same opponent the last time they met, just six months ago at the Australian Open, when Ellerbrock won in straight sets.

“At that time I was not feeling very well,” she said. “It [Grand Slams] were all very new to me and I struggled finding my rhythm. Knowing that now I felt very well and I really liked the surface,” said de Groot, who also won recently at Surbiton (in the first ever pre-Wimbledon grass court wheelchair tournament). “I’m unbeaten on the grass so that feels really good. Surbiton really helped me prepare for this week.”

De Groot hits a heavy ball and looks to bring about a swift conclusion to rallies. “I like short rallies,” she said, “hit the return quite deep and make sure I make a lot of pressure from the beginning of the rally and I think that really suits the court. She played very smart and I had to find my way around that.

“All of the players are so close in the rankings so anything can happen at any point – Ellerbrock beating the No.1 yesterday shows you anything can happen.”

De Groot offered a completely different challenge to Ellerbrock than Yui Kamiji, the Japanese world No. 1, did.

“No chance to find my rhythm, she was there from the first point today,” said Ellerbrock, “If she is hitting in, not many mistakes – I’m not sure that she made any unforced error in the first set. She was playing with a lot of topspin, which was completely different to what I faced yesterday: Diede is tall and plays a lot of topspin, Yui is more tiny and playing a lot of slice, but I’m happy with my tournament.”

De Groot would like to see bigger fields in the Slams, if only to help top players ease themselves into their form.

 Britain’s Gordon Reid lamented that he hadn’t had enough time to prepare and an extra round or two might have done him the world of good. As it was, he was confronted by the fast-improving Stefan Olsson, of Sweden, who has gone on to reach the final.

“I think it’s quite important for the sport to grow,” said se Groot. “For me it was very tough to get into the top eight because the top eight players play the Grand Slams, so they’re sort of like an elite group and so to get into that without playing the Grand Slams was quite hard, so having a bigger field would help lower ranked players to up their game.” 

Reid may have surrendered his singles title but he and Alfie Hewett held on to their doubles title, although they had to fight every inch of the way during which they passed up on four match point opportunities prior to the third-set tiebreak.

Eventually they just managed to get across the finishing line, beating the French pair, Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer, 67(5) 75 76(3) before a packed and noisy audience on No.3 Court. All England Club members hadn’t seen such scenes on their grounds since they loaned them to the London 2012 Olympics.

“I’ll never forget it, it was amazing,” Hewett said of the scenes. “I think I enjoyed that one even more than last year’s,” chipped in Reid. “We never thought we’d play on a packed out Court Three but there might be people watching it today who will see wheelchair tennis on a packed out Court Two or One in the future. Hopefully, we’ve played our part in the growth of the sport.”

Reid and Hewett had lost to the same opponents in the final at the Rio Paralympics and Roland Garros so this was sweet revenge for the two young Britons and a dish served a trifle cold, thanks to the rain. In fact, the rain stoppage which came after the Britons had lost the opening set worked very nicely for them.

“It gave us time to calm down,” said Reid. “We came out in the second set quite relaxed and swinging a bit freer.”

There is no doubt that the chemistry that exists between the Scot and the Englishman is a potent one. “We both have different qualities that combine to create a great force,” said Reid.