11 Sep 2017

Houdet, Kamiji and Wagner win US Open wheelchair titles

News Article

By Rene Denfeld

Photo: Takeo TanumaStephane Houdet (FRA)

On the final Sunday, the wheelchair competitions at the US Open came to a close and at the end, the more experienced players prevailed in men's singles, women's singles and quad singles.

In a rollercoaster wheelchair men's final, French veteran Stephane Houdet defeated British teenager Alfie Hewett in three sets, avenging Saturday’s doubles loss at the hands of the Brit and his partner Gordon Reid.

Houdet raced out to a 6-2, 3-1 lead in less than an hour, putting Hewett under a lot of pressure with his forehand. But from the middle of the second set onwards, the 19-year-old started capitalising on his chances, winning five of the last six games to force a decider.

At the end, however, it was the savvy and smart play from Houdet that prevailed and the 46-year-old eventually claimed his fourth Grand Slam title 62 46 63, adding to his previous majors at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2013 as well as the 2013 US Open.

After the Australian Open, Houdet started to work differently and says he “discovered a new tennis, a new way of breathing, a new tactical approach to the game".

In the past Houdet was told to play the big points well and not to make mistakes - now he’s trying to focus on each point more consciously rather than getting preoccupied with the endless “what ifs” during each match.

"I had the feeling for the last few months that I was playing better but I didn't get the results," Houdet said after his US Open title. "I lost many times to Gustavo Fernandez and to Stefan Olsson. I was always close, I thought I was improving but I didn't score."

Even though the big results didn't come right away this year, patience throughout the season and in the finals were the recipe for Houdet's success in New York.

"I think about the way I have to breathe - and next point. All the time," the Frenchman said.

Even though he lost the second set, he didn't think of it as losing a set - he considered it an opportunity to play another set and improve.

"You really need to take the lead of the game, the way you play, the game, being fast and then everything becomes easier and that's what happened."

Alfie Hewett ended up having to settle for runner-up despite forcing a third set - but the young Brit admitted that the amount of matchplay from singles and doubles from the previous day had caught up with him in the singles finals.

"I woke up this morning and I really didn't feel too well, actually. I didn't sleep well, exhausted, tired and my body was aching," Hewett said. "Houdet has got a strong forehand, my plan was obviously trying to pin the backhand and wait for the short ball to come in and attack and I feel I had chances in every set.”

Ultimately, however, Hewett struggled too much on his serve in the third set and couldn't convert many of his chances.

"I think it came down to whoever held first and it was him," the 19-year-old concluded.

Still, the teenager had a lot of positives to take away from his first US Open, leaving with the wheelchair men's doubles title and the runner-up title in singles.

"There's so much I can take out of this week. First match of this week against Shingo Kunieda. Second match against Gordon Reid. Even today. Still I'm only 19 and I gotta use this as another learning curve," Hewitt explained and added how much he loved the vibe of the US Open. "I really enjoyed this one."

On the women's side world No. 1 Yui Kamiji repeated her US Open singles title from 2014 and defeated Diede de Groot from Netherlands 75 62 in the finals on Sunday afternoon.

The Japanese came through a particularly tight opener where she was able to break her Dutch opponent in the last game - in the second set Kamiji structured her points even better and dictated play for much of the time.

"The key point was 6-5, the last game of the first set" Kamiji said. "I was a bit - not nervous but my body was tight and I wanted to get the points and the game. But if I lost, it still would've been a tie-break and I didn't have that much pressure. I was a little bit relaxed and I could see the court pretty well."

After capturing the title in the Wimbledon singles, the 20-year-old Dutchwoman had to settle for the runner-up spot against the world No. 1, who won her third wheelchair singles slam of the year at the US Open.

"Diede played really well and she has a big forehand, big backhand and she tried to hit harder and harder,"the 22-year-old explained."That's good for me, that she had to do more, that she wanted to do more. The second set was more on my (terms). I could control the points better."

After 2016, Kamiji made several changes to her game and also to her wheelchair setup, hoping to find thee right recipe for success early in advance to the Paralympics in Toyko in three years' time.

"I think this year is one of the most important years," the Japanese said of her successful 2017 season. "I'm focused on the 2020 Paralympics, of course. I changed my tactic, my skills and the biggest change is my wheelchair. It's higher than before and I changed the wheel, it's bigger than before.”

"I don't have pressure because everything changed. That's why I have a good season this year - my mind is free. Next year I need to be relaxed, too."

In the final of the quad singles competition, this year's US Open quad doubles champions faced off against one another just 24 hours after claiming their fourth Grand Slam title together and their first in New York.

David Wagner and Andrew Lapthorne survived the round-robin format and left defending champion Dylan Alcott in their trails.

In the final, it was Wagner who emerged victorious after a tough three-set match, claiming his third US Open quad singles title 75 36 64. 

Although the American defeated world No. 2 Lapthorne the Brit was able to challenge his doubles partner much more than during their meeting in the round-robin phase of the competition a few days ago, which Wagner won 62 64.

Wagner was unable to build any further on an early 3-1 lead, but dug deep to come from 4-3 down and 5-4 down before taking the first set of the final with a backhand winner.

Twenty six-year-old Lapthorne, the 2014 US Open champion, fought back to establish a 5-2 lead on his way to taking the second set, which he secured after Wagner missed with a forehand volley.

Lapthorne then took a 4-2 lead in the decider, suggesting that a second US Open title could be on the cards, However, backhand and forehand volley winners secured Wagner the next two games to see the top seed draw level and a forehand winner saw Wagner take the lead for the first time since the first game of the final set.

But at the end it was a backhand error by Lapthorne that concluded the match after two hours and nine minutes as Wagner claimed his fourth game in a row to regain the title he'd last won in 2011.

Wagner now has three US Open quad singles titles and eight US Open quad doubles titles to his name.