It was a Japanese kind of day in Paris on Friday when Shingo Kunieda and Yui Kamiji won the 2014 Roland Garros wheelchair men’s and women’s singles titles, respectively.
When the top-seeded Kunieda and second seeded Stephane Houdet of France took to the court to contest for the men’s trophy on the first real summery day at Roland Garros, they did so as old foes and friends.
The two top draw competitors share a long history and this was to be their 40th career encounter. Their first came way back in 2006 at the US Open where they played for the first time in the round-of-16. Kunieda scored that first victory 63 75.
Through the years, Kunieda has been the dominant player in their meetings, having won 31 of the 40 encounters. And that record includes Kunieda capturing the 2014 Roland Garros title with a 64 61 scoreline.
For the 30-year-old Kunieda, however, Houdet’s been a thorn in his side the past couple of years here in Paris.
Kunieda’s not only lost in the last three finals here, but in the past two years that defeat came on the racket of Houdet, who not surprisingly is France’s favourite son.
“Yes, finally I could do it,” said Kunieda, when asked about exacting revenge for his final losses the past two years to Houdet. “Today I played very well, especially my forehand was very aggressive and I made pressure on him.”
In order to turn the tables on Houdet, Kunieda admits to training even more aggressively on clay to get ready for this year’s Roland Garros. And the proof that hard work pays off was seen in the match.
Tied at 2-2 in the first set after the first two service games saw service breaks, Kunieda won the next three games to take a 5-2 lead. Houdet was not to be discouraged, however, and would soon take the next two games to put the set back on serve. Alas, Houdet was unable to bring the score to 5-5, instead he lost his serve at love to give Kunieda the first set.
In the second set, many of the games were long, but ended up in Kunieda’s win column. The only game Houdet, who made too many unforced errors and lacked the patience to remain in many of the points, was able to win in the second set was when he broke Kunieda’s serve in the third game.
“He played very well,” said Houdet, giving his opponent — and friend — praise deserved. “He touched almost all the lines of the court. And it’s more difficult for me when he’s leading and that’s what he did in the match.”
In truth, Kunieda was lucky even to find himself facing Houdet in the final on Friday. On Thursday, he had to save three match points that his opponent, Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina, had before capturing the semifinal match 63 36 75.
Kunieda’s victory increases his career Grand Slam titles to 31: 16 singles and 15 doubles and five of those singles titles were captured on the red clay of Roland Garros. It’s worth noting that Kunieda, a graduate of Reitaku University, is also the only Paralympian to win back-to-back singles gold in tennis, having done so in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. And in 2012, Kunieda also achieved another career goal when he won the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters title for the first time.
The good news for Houdet is he didn’t have to leave Roland Garros without a winner’s trophy. Teamed with Joachim Gerard of Belgium as the top seeds, the duo won a challenging 46 63 (11-9) final victory over second seeds Fernandez and Nicolas Peifer of Belgium.
While Kunieda picked up his 31st Grand Slam trophy, Kamiji’s 76(7) 64 win over 2013 ITF Wheelchair World Champion Aniek van Koot of Netherlands delivered her debut career Grand Slam singles title.
“This is my first Grand Slam title so I’m very happy,” Kamiji said. “Before my match it felt very special for me.”
These two women have met a dozen times now with the 23-year-old van Koot winning their first five outings, and seven overall.
The first set see-sawed between both players. Kamiji took the first lead 3-1, but van Koot won the next three games to go up 4-3 with a service break. From 3-3 in the first set the next six games featured service breaks to force the tiebreaker.
Van Koot actually had two set points in the first set. Her first set point came at 6-5, 40-30 but she couldn’t get the job done. At 6-6 in the tiebreaker, Kamiji double faulted to give van Koot a second set point at 7-6, but she again failed to close out the set. Three points later Kamiji had a one-set lead.
In the second set, van Koot was ahead 4-2 but couldn’t hold on to the lead. Kamiji won the final four games to win her first Roland Garros singles trophy.
And to make the day even more special for Kamiji, she teamed with Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain as the second seeds in the doubles, to win their second consecutive Grand Slam title having taken the honours in Australia, too.
Kamiji and Whiley needed their best to just edge past the top seeded Dutch team Jiske Griffioen and van Koot 76(3) 36 (10-8).
It was left to Kamiji and Whiley to not only put a final touch on the 2014 Roland Garros wheelchair competition. But they also ended up playing the final match of a busy day on Friday at Roland Garros.