01 Dec 2017

Dutch trio and Kamiji reach women's semis

News Article

By Clive White

Photo: Tennis FoundationDiede de Groot (NED)

LOUGHBROUGH: The Dutch may be absent at next year’s World Cup finals but at least they are still a force in women’s wheelchair tennis and, not for the first time, have three representatives in the semifinals of the singles at the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters.

Jiske Griffioen, their double Paralympic gold medallist and the current NEC Masters champion, may have retired from the sport but the Dutch march on. Like last year, the Japanese Yui Kamiji will be seeking to break the cartel single-handedly. She remains the only non-Dutch woman to win this event in its 24-year history, which she did in 2013.

A couple of years ago the great Esther Vergeer tipped Diede de Groot for greatness - as opposed to following in her footsteps because no-one is ever likely to replicate the achievements in this sport of the seven-time Paralympic gold medallist.

Doubtless the 20-year-old de Groot would have expected, or perhaps preferred, that her ascension in the Dutch pecking order came in its own good time but Griffioen’s departure – premature some would say – has rather accelerated that process.

The girl from Woerden in central Netherlands has been obliged to step up and she has not been found wanting, appropriately winning her first Grand Slam title at the All England Club before the 32-year-old Griffioen, the 2016 Wimbledon champion, stepped down. 

Some might think that de Groot welcomed the vacancy that opened up, but tennis players rarely ever welcome the departure of a major rival. John McEnroe once said that one of the saddest days of his professional career was when Bjorn Borg announced his retirement; McEnroe felt that with Borg around the two men would push one another on to greater heights and de Groot is similarly minded.

“I’m sad that such a good player has left the competition, she was great to compete against,” said de Groot. “Last year we had a great match here so, yeah, it’s sad that she left, but I’m hoping that she’s doing great things now.”

De Groot has been doing great things here this week. On Friday she made it three wins out of three by beating Kgothatso Montjane, of South Africa, 75 61. No one has yet taken a set off her, although her compatriot Marjolein Buis took her to a tiebreak on Thursday.

“I think I maybe need to play more aggressively tomorrow,” said de Groot, who plays Aniek van Koot, the last girl to beat Griffioen, in the semifinals. “I’m going to need to up it. We know each other very well and played against each other a lot this year.

“Each match this week has been very different so it was tough to maintain a level, which is why I’m even more happy to pull through.”

De Groot leads 4-3 in their head-to-head but importantly she has won all their three meetings this year without dropping a set. Van Koot was as surprised as anyone when her opponent, Sabine Ellerbrock, of Germany, retired with a ruptured bicep while trailing 76(5) 2-1.

De Groot is modest to a fault but she is neither fazed by the kind words of Vergeer nor the sudden departure of Griffioen and says, “I don’t feel any more pressure on me to win now that Jiske has gone. It was already here when she was playing.

“I know Esther very well, she’s helped me in the past. I’m just happy that she wants to help me. When she says good things about me it only gives me more confidence.

“Two years ago there was this project started which meant that she was going to coach me, but not on court but with the rest of the things that come with the tennis – like talking to the media, food, preparing for matches - those kind of things.”

Asked if she had ever played Vergeer, who retired in early 2013 after going over 10 years unbeaten, de Groot said: “I played against her once in a practice match when I asked her to and she hadn’t played tennis for two years then. She said, ‘It was very nice but tennis is not my game any more’.”

Vergeer told itftennis.com a couple of years ago that that there was no way she could play against the girls of today, they were too good, but de Groot doesn’t buy into that.

“If she went back into training she would be good again,” said de Groot.

Winning the Masters would cap a fine year for de Groot and obviously put her that much closer to the coveted No. 1 ranking, which Kamiji will hold on to come what may here.

Buis, who was happy to beat Great Britain’s Lucy Shuker 62 67(4) 62 although less happy to pass up on a match point in the second set, has a plan to stop Kamiji in their semifinal and reach her first Masters final, not to mention bring about yet another all-Dutch conclusion to this event

With David Wagner and Andy Lapthorne awaiting the winners of the last two round-robin pool matches in the quad singles, former finalist Lucas Sithole, Bazil’s Ymanitu Silva, Australia’s Heath Davidson and Brit Antony Cotterill had to wait until the end of Friday’s schedule before making their bids for the last four in two must-win contests.

Sithole, the only African player to win a Super Series and Grand Slam wheelchair tennis singles title, maintains his hopes of becoming the first African to win an NC Masters champion after overcoming Silva 64 64

“I’m happy with the win but I also think I need to improve for tomorrow,” said Sithole ahead of facing current world Nol. 2 Lapthorne, a player he has more than once beaten on British soil previously, in Saturday’s semis.

“I think I played well today and I think Silva played well. So I’ll take the win and rest up ready for tomorrow. I’m expecting a good one tomorrow against Andy. I think it’s going to be a good match for the year-end. Me and him have been playing each other a long time so I think it’s going to be a hard match…and fun. The only thing for me is to enjoy it and keep building each and every point.”

With Lapthorne and Wagner only too aware of the potential for either of them to end the week as year-end world No.1 in quad singles, despite their attempts to play down the permutations and focus on each match, if they are to settle things in a head-to-head in Sunday’s final, both players have tough semis.

Davidson goes into the last four one the back of having won his last two matches (and securing his only two wins) against Wagner. So USA’s current world No. 1 is going to be on his game.

Due to the extraordinary efforts of Hewett and Reid on Court 1 earlier on Friday Davidson and Cotterill were the last two players on court late into the evening – and yes, they went to three sets, too, as Cotterill sought to extend his unbeaten record from just one previous match against the Australian.

However, in the event, Davidson dominated the second and third sets to win 46 61 60.