Photo: Takeo TanumaStephane Houdet (FRA)
Shingo Kunieda bids to complete a sweep of all three men’s singles Grand Slam wheelchair tennis titles for the fourth time in his career when the US Open Wheelchair Tennis Competition, part of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, gets underway on Thursday in New York.
The Japanese world No. 1 won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and US Open titles in the same calendar year in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and, with the US Open Wheelchair Tennis Competition not being played in 2008 and 2012 due to the dates coinciding with the Paralympic Games, Kunieda has again come out on top in Melbourne and Paris this year.
Kunieda will bid to dethrone reigning US Open champion and world No. 2 Stephane Houdet after the Frenchman defeated Kunieda in two of the three singles finals they contested at the majors in 2013. Houdet's fellow Frenchman and wild card entry Michael Jeremiasz will be Kunieda's opening opponent in New York this year as the current and former world No. 1 players get the chance to play on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Kunieda’s only got one competitive loss on his record this season, discounting his scheduled quarterfinal at the Swiss Open, which the 30-year-old withdrew from in advance due to illness, and starts his latest campaign at Flushing Meadows unbeaten in 37 matches. His last loss came against world No. 3 Gordon Reid in the semifinals of the Sydney International in January.
While Reid is the only player in the eight-strong men’s field to have beaten Kunieda and Houdet this season, Gustavo Fernandez beat Houdet to reach his first Grand Slam final against Kunieda at the Australian Open and then had match points against Kunieda in their semifinal at Roland Garros.
The world No. 3 ranked Brit or Argentinian world No. 4 cannot be discounted from upsetting either of the world’s top two in New York, but first of all Reid and Fernandez will meet each other for a place in the semifinals.
World No. 6 ranked Dutchman Maikel Scheffers returns to New York still as the last player apart from Kunieda and Houdet to win a Grand Slam men's singles title after lifting the Australian Open in 2012. Scheffers wll play world No. 9 Nicolas Peifer on Thursday's first day of play, while Houdet begins his title defence against Belgium's Joachim Gerard.
Van Koot faces stiff competition in title defence
Reigning women’s singles champion Aniek van Koot, fellow Dutchwoman Jiskse Griffioen and Sabine Ellerbrock, Germany’s 2013 runner-up in New York, are the only players to have beaten world No. 1 Yui Kamiji this season. Griffioen is the only player to have defeated the Japanese top seed twice since January, most recently in the semifinals of last week’s USTA Championships Super Series in St. Louis.
World ranked No. 3 this week as a result of her second Super Series victory of 2014 last week, Griffioen could be considered the form player coming into the US Open, while the contest for the women’s title could also be the most open of all three singles events.
Kamiji is the only one of the world’s top four players to have featured in the previous two women’s singles Grand Slam finals this year, losing out to current world No. 4 Ellerbrock at Melbourne Park, but overcoming van Koot to lift her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. The 20-year-old will begin her challenge to make it three singles finals in thtee majors when she takes on Dutch world No. 7 Sharon Walraven.
Ellerbrock, Griffioen and Kamiji are all aiming to become Grand Slam semifinalists for the third time this season, but in the case of Ellerbrock and Griffioen only one of them can achieve that goal after being drawn together in their opening match.
With van Koot missing the Australian Open as she continued her rehabilitation from tendonitis, Brit Jordanne Whiley won her first Grand Slam singles match to reach the semifinals in Melbourne.
Whiley is this week’s world No. 6 and her opening opponent in New York will be Marjolein Buis, the Dutch player who has replaced Whiley at No. 5 this week after beating world No. 2 van Koot at the Super Series in St. Louis last week. Van Koot will aim to recover quickly from that loss as she begins her title defence against South Africa's world No. 8 and wild card entry Kgothatso Montjane.
Wagner out to regain quad singles title on home soil
At the 2013 US Open Lucas Sithole made history as the first African player to win a Grand Slam wheelchair tennis title. His wins in the round-robin phase and the final of the quad singles were among four victories during last season over American world No. 1 David Wagner and the South African was the only player to beat Wagner during the year.
Fast forward 12 months and things are much different, with Wagner, world No. 2 Sithole and Britain’s world No. 3 Andy Lapthorne each having at least one win over each other this season.
The three days of round-robin matches that begin the quad singles competition at every Grand Slam therefore provide a series of fascinating match-ups as the world’s top three face each other as well as American world No. 6 Nick Taylor. Arguably the most anticipated round-robin match-up of all comes on the opening day as Wagner and Sithole renew their rivalry, with Lapthorne meeting Taylor.
While bidding to regain the quad singles title and win the US Open for the third time, Wagner will also partner Taylor with the intention of trying to remain unbeaten in the quad doubles in New York. The three-time Paralympic gold medallists have won each of the previous five US Open quad doubles finals.
They will meet Lapthorne and Sithole for the second successive year after a three set contest at the final Grand Slam of the year in 2013 and another three set match between the two pairings at last week’s USTA Championships in St. Louis, Taylor and Wagner winning both encounters.