Photo: Kai SchrameyerShingo Kunieda and Takashi Sanada (JPN)
Shingo Kunieda, Katharina Kruger and Bryan Barten will go into the Rio Paralympics on the back of singles victories at the last ITF 1 before the Games after clinching the men’s, women’s and singles titles at the Birmingham Classic, part of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, in Mississauga, Canada.
Kunieda wrapped up the men’s singles title just 10 days before starting his bid for a third straight Paralympic gold medal, getting in some valuable tournament match-play following elbow surgery in early April.
The seven-time ITF World Champion slipped to No. 7 in the world rankings as the result of playing just two events in between April’s surgery and his arrival in Canada, but still began the Birmingham Classic as top seed and with a comfortable 60 60 win over Canadian Jean-Paul Melo.
While Dutch second seed Maikel Scheffers also swept past Canadian opposition in his opening match, there was far more intrigue in the quarterfinal between Kunieda and Scheffers’ countrymen, world No. 10 Takuya Miki and world No. 11 Tom Egberink.
Fourth seed Miki boosted his credentials for the Paralympics by battling back to defeat Egberink 26 61 76(2). However, with Egberink having already undergone his own surgery this year on his road to Rio, he experienced another setback by breaking the thumb on his right hand after a fall from his tennis chair during the final set tiebreak.
After his dramatic quarterfinal win Miki found Kunieda too strong in their all-Japanese last four contest, with Kunieda going on to reach just his second final of 2016 61 75.
With Egberink and Scheffers unable to play their doubles semifinal due to Egberink’s injury, Dutch fortunes endured another downturn in the singles semifinals as third seed Takashi Sanada ensured it would be an all-Japanese final, defeating Scheffers 64 62.
Thereafter Kunieda again had the measure of one of his compatriots to gain another confidence-boosting win and wrap up the title 63 76(2), despite being taken to a tiebreak for the first time by Sanada in their six UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour head-to-heads.
The tournament ended with Japan also taking the men’s doubles title, Miki and Sanada landing the spoils for the loss of just one game before pairing up in Rio. Kunieda is due to team up with Satoshi Saida in Rio as they renew a partnership that has already won Paralympic gold and bronze medals in Athens and Beijing respectively.
Kruger earns confidence-boosting first ITF 1 singles title
With Kruger and USA’s Emmy Kaiser being the only two Birmingham Classic women’s singles entries en route to Rio, Kruger moved into the final after a routine 60 60 win over USA’s Joanna Nieh.
Tara Llanes faired best of the Canadian trio of women’s players, but her challenge ended in the last four as second seed Kaiser also eased into the final 62 61.
The American went into the final having beaten Kruger in their last previous match-up, in the semifinals of the Czech Open earlier this year, but world No. 10 Kruger ensured a confidence-boosting 62 62 win ahead of her third Paralympics as she wrapped up her first ITF 1 Series main draw singles title.
Kruger left Mississauga with two titles after pairing up with Llanes to beat Kaiser and Puissand Lai 63 64 in the women’s doubles decider.
Barten overcomes all-comers in quad singles
If Barten was looking for a test ahead his second Paralympics that was exactly what the world No. 8 got en route to lifting the quad singles title.
However, it was Canada’s Rob Shaw that made the early headlines as the world No. 40 clinched his first career win over Barten’s countryman and world No. 16 Greg Hasterok 62 62.
There was another first for Becky Coleman as the Brit made her first UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour quad singles semifinal with a 63 36 63 defeat of Canada’s Mitch McIntyre. However, while Coleman’s challenge ended in a 60 60 loss to Korea Republic second seed Kyu-Seung Kim, Shaw made life more difficult for Barten before the American eventually came through 63 46 62.
With Barten and Kim meeting for the first time in the final, Barten again found life tough in the opening two sets. But he eventually got his win to send him off to Rio in good heart, earning a 75 57 62 victory to add to the 63 61 win that he and Hasterok clinched against Kim and Canada’s Mike Ishikawa in the quad doubles final.