Shingo Kunieda of Japan, Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany and David Wagner of the United States clinched the men's, women’s and quad singles titles on Saturday’s final day of the Australian Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships as Ellerbrock earned a return to the women’s world No. 1 ranking with the second Grand Slam victory of her career.
Ellerbrock, who came into the Australian Open as world No. 2, took a 2-0 lead at the start of the women’s singles final, but after a slow start world No. 3 Yui Kamiji edged the first deuce game of the match to start her own sequence of four games, which she completed with a service break to love.
Ellerbrock stemmed the flow to make it 4-3, but back-to-back double faults from the top seed saw Kamiji establish a two game cushion once again and she converted her first set point after exactly 30 minutes of play.
The top seed opened up a 5-2 advantage en route to taking the second set and again came out stronger for the deciding set, securing successive breaks to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Kamiji broke to love to show that she wasn’t finished, but there was to be no big comeback and last year‘s runner-up completed a 36 64 62 victory to add her first Australian Open title to her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2013.
“It’s an amazing feeling, I’m very emotional,” said Ellerbrock, “Last year was tough. I came back from 3-5 and saved eight match points and when I had 5-5 I played two silly games and that was hard, But that’s tennis. I didn’t have last year’s final in my head today and tried to concentrate on my match today. The first set was difficult with the wind, because it was always changing, but after a while I started to feel pretty comfortable on court. I was a little too defensive in the first set and especially against the wind you have to be very active, so in the second set it was much better.”
While Ellerbrock finished runner-up to Dutchwoman Aniek van Koot in 2013, van Koot was unable to defend her title this year due to injury and Ellerbrock’s victory will see her return to the No. 1 ranking she first held last July until after the US Open in September.
Kunieda makes it seven titles in Melbourne
With the Australian Open being the only one of the three wheelchair tennis Grand Slam singles titles that Kunieda won in 2013, a loss in this year’s final would have ended his latest occupancy of the world No. 1 men’s singles ranking.
However, on the day there was never any danger of that happening as Kunieda raced into a 3-0 lead for the loss of just four points. Fernandez won more points in the fourth game than he had in the previous three and had a point for his first game of the final, but Kunieda ended the Argentinian’s hopes of getting on the board when he fired his first ace to make it 4-0.
The fifth game also went to deuce, but there were no game points for Fernandez this time as Kunieda moved to within a game of the first set. The defending champion ended the set with his second ace of the final after just 22 minutes, boasting a 96 per cent first serve in his six games.
Fernandez earned a rare game point as he opened the second set, but it was to no avail and Kunieda went on to hold his first service game of the set to love, subsequently breaking Fernandez’s serve to love to win his ninth game in succession. After 37 minutes of play Fernandez finally won his first and only game in his first Grand Slam final to make it 3-1, but that was to be his only major success and Kunieda went on to wrap up a 60 61 victory.
“I’m very happy with this result. To win seven times is unbelievable for me, but I love this surface and these temperatures,” said a delighted Kunieda, who is now unbeaten in the seven Australian Open singles and doubles events he has played since 2007. “I played a good serve and return game today. I always hope to win here and now I want to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. The sport is getting more popular in Japan and we will keep going,”
“I’d got a plan and I didn’t really do anything with that,” said a disappointed Fernandez after his first Grand Slam final. “I was really focused before the match and I prepared really well, but when I got into the court I just lost the idea, I lost the system, but he (Kunieda) did excellent and he stayed all the time in his game. Then when he’s playing with the lead it’s more difficult because he has more confidence and everything.
“It was pretty exciting and pretty emotional to win my first Grand Slam match on Wednesday (against Stephane Houdet) and it was even more exciting to get to the final. Now I’m a little bit frustrated by the match, but in time maybe I will see what I did this week,”
Wagner seals third Australian Open
The first Grand Slam quad singles final of 2014 was a rematch of the last Grand Slam quad singles final of 2013 at the US Open in New York. On that occasion South Africa’s Lucas Sithole made history as the first African player to win a Grand Slam wheelchair tennis title. Sithole's and hopes of adding the Australian Open title looked bright as he came from 2-0 down in the opening set against Wagner to win the last three games.
Wagner again started the second set strongest, building a 3-0 lead and coming two points away from a 4-0 lead. However Sithole made it 3-1 and levelled the set at 3-3. Wagner won another deuce game to edge back ahead at 4-3 and Sithole doubled-faulted to contribute to Wagner taking a 5-3 lead. Sithole dug deep to get back in the set and his fifth ace of the match saw him level at 5-5, but Wagner went on to clinch the last two games.
As in the first two sets Wagner went a break up at 2-0 in the decider. Sithole won a marathon game to reduces his arrears to 2-1, but despite some long and tense games for the remainder of the match he could never get back on terms with top seed Wagner and the American claimed the last three games for a 36 75 63 victory.
“This one was challenging, I had some really strong competition throughout. I had three setters, I had match points against me in some rounds,” said Wagner, reflecting in his tough week in Melbourne. “The first set today was a little challenging. I felt like I was off a bit and didn’t feel like I was serving very well, but props to him, he did what he had to do to get that first set under his belt.
“The second set probably could have gone either way a couple of times, but I just tried to stay the course and we had a game plan and we knew that going in. What I think made a big difference in the third set was I had two service games where I was down 0-40 and I came back on both of those games and that was huge. Those were some pretty crucial points.”
Wagner’s victory saw him add to his previous two Australian Open titles in 2011 and 2013 and he ends the Australian Open having won both the quad singles and quad doubles titles in the same year in Melbourne for the first time, having partnered Brit Andy Lapthorne to win the doubles.
Men's singles draw
Men's doubles draw
Women's singles draw
Women's doubles draw
Quad singles draw
Quad doubles draw