Photo: Paul ZimmerShingo Kunieda (JPN)
World No.1 Shingo Kunieda will open his Australian Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships men’s singles title defence against new world No. 3 Gordon Reid of Great Britain on Wednesday after the draw for the first Grand Slam of the year was made on Monday in Melbourne.
Kunieda is unbeaten at the Australian Open since 2007, amassing six singles and six doubles titles. He didn’t contest the 2012 tournament. The Japanese top seed he will hope to hit form again this time after losing to Reid in the semifinals of the Sydney International Open, both players’ first tournament of 2014, last week.
Reid went on to win his first Super Series title in Sydney and has subsequently returned to his career best ranking of No. 3 this week, but at the Melbourne Open, the final tournament before the world’s best players converge on Melbourne Park, it was Kunieda’s turn to beat Reid in the semifinals before taking the title on Sunday.
World No. 2 Stephane Houdet played Kunieda in all three Grand Slam men’s singles finals in 2013, with the Frenchman beating Kunieda at both Roland Garros and the US Open. Houdet will begin his Australian Open bid this year against world No. 4 Joachim Gerard. Like Reid, the player who has deposed Gerard as world No. 3 this week, the Belgian is making his debut at Melbourne Park this year.
Maikel Scheffers, the 2012 Australian Open champion in Kunieda’s absence, will open his challenge against Australia’s Adam Kellerman after Kellerman made it to his second successive main draw at Melbourne Park when he beat fellow Australian Ben Weekes 26 64 62 in the wildcard play-off earlier in the day on Monday.
Argentina’s Gustavo Fernandez, who has moved up one place to replace Scheffers as world No. 5 in this week’s rankings, will play French world No. 7 Michael Jeremiasz for a place in the semifinals.
Ellerbrock bidding for first Australian Open
Germany’s world No. 2 Sabine Ellerbrock begins this year’s Australian Open just four ranking points adrift of Dutchwoman Aniek van Koot at the top of the world rankings. Ellerbrock finished runner-up to van Koot at the 2013 Australian Open as van Koot claimed a victory that saw her become world No. 1 for the first time following the retirement of Esther Vergeer.
One year on from that historic occasion, van Koot is missing from this year’s women’s singles field as she continues to recover from tendonitis and is guaranteed to lose her world No. 1 ranking.
Ellerbrock, van Koot and a second Dutchwoman, world No. 4 Jiske Griffioen, were the only women’s players to reach Grand Slam singles finals in 2013, with Ellerbrock winning her first Grand Slam after victory over Griffioen at Roland Garros.
All three players will undoubtedly be strong contenders again at Melbourne Park, but with Ellerbrock having to withdraw from her semifinal at the Melbourne Open over the weekend having finished runner-up to Griffioen in her first tournament of the season in Sydney, the top seed’s fitness could well be a crucial factor.
Yui Kamiji has also put herself in contention at the top of the world rankings and the world No. 3 goes into the Australian Open on the back of victory over Griffioen in the semifinals of the Melbourne Open before going on to take the title. However, just last week Griffioen dropped just two games to Kamiji in the final of the Sydney International, reversing the result of their last meeting of 2013, when Kamiji defeated Griffioen to become the first non-Dutch player to win the women’s singles at the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters.
Griffioen begins her Australian Open challenge against Britain’s world No. 8 Lucy Shuker, a semifinalist in 2013. Shuker was runner-up to Kamiji at the Melbourne Open over the weekend after beating Dutch world No. 5 Marjolein Buis in the quarterfinals and then taking the lead over Ellerbrock in the semifinals before Ellerbrock’s retirement. Buis, an Australian Open semifinalist alongside Shuker last year, will hope for a better performance as she begins her bid for Grand Slam honours against Kamiji.
World No. 7 Jordanne Whiley returns to the Australian Open for the first time since 2011 and is still searching for her first win in a Grand Slam singles match. The Brit hopes that that will come against Dutch world No. 9 Sharon Walraven, who has been awarded the women’s singles wildcard this year following van Koot’s withdrawal.
Alcott hoping to upset Grand Slam finalists
American David Wagner, South Africa’s Lucas Sithole and Britain’s Andy Lapthorne were all quad singles Grand Slam finalists in 2013, with world No. 1 Wagner beating Lapthorne in the final in Australia before world No. 2 Sithole made history by becoming the first African player to win a Grand Slam wheelchair tennis title when overcoming Wagner in the US Open final.
The round-robin format for the quad singles at the Grand Slams means that all three players will have to meet each other before next weekend’s finalists are decided. The top two players at the end of the three days of round-robin matches will advance to the final
Wagner is making his seasonal debut as she bids for his third Australian Open title, while Sithole has lifted the quad singles title at both of his tournaments in Sydney and Melbourne so far this season. Sithole won a final set tiebreak against world No. 3 Lapthorne to win the Melbourne Open, making for a fascinating prospect when they meet again this week.
However, the world’s top three ranked players will have to look out for Australian wildcard Dylan Alcott. A former leading junior wheelchair tennis player Alcott has turned his attentions back to wheelchair tennis after winning two Paralympic medals in wheelchair basketball. The local Victorian player will be keen to impress in Melbourne as he has done during some of his matches at the his first two tournaments of the season.
Men's singles draw
Men's doubles draw
Women's singles draw
Women's doubles draw
Quad singles draw
Quad doubles draw