Sunday's women's wheelchair tennis doubles final at Wimbledon will feature three of the four finalists from 2009 after two contrasting semifinals on Friday.
Dutch top seeds Esther Vergeer and Sharon Walraven sailed through Friday's opening women's doubles semifinal after they beat Wimbledon debutantes Annick Sevenans of Belgium and Aniek van Koot of the Netherlands 60 63.
Later in the day, Britain's Lucy Shuker and Daniela di Toro of Australia came through in three sets for a 76(4) 36 63 victory over Florence Alix-Gravellier of France and Jiske Griffioen of the Netherlands.
Walraven and Vergeer ease to semifinal victory
After winning the inaugural women's wheelchair doubles at Wimbledon in 2009, Vergeer's defence of the title with a different partner in Walraven began inauspiciously as the world No. 1 served a double fault on the opening point of the first semifinal. However, thereafter the top seeds were rarely troubled as they reeled off the first ten games of the match without allowing their opponents a game point as Vergeer dominated the baseline rallies and Walraven's touch brought dividends at the net.
Suddenly Sevenans and van Koot found themselves 0-40 up in the 11th game and won three out of four games to reduce their second set deficit to 5-3, but there was to be no great comeback as van Koot sent a forehand long to give Walraven and Vergeer two match points and Sevenans failed to make a clean contact on Walraven's subsequent serve.
"It was a good day for us after we made some changes since Roland Garros," said Vergeer, who also partnered Walraven in Paris when the duo lost the last Grand Slam final to di Toro and van Koot. "After that loss we played today with me playing on the right and Sharon playing on the left and it didn't feel like we had to force things and have to struggle to be in the right positions like we did in Paris. Everything felt a lot more natural and obviously it paid off. We were dominating and then I think they must have relaxed and gone for everything, so they did well to come back, but thankfully we managed to close it out well."
Di Toro and Shuker edge through
Neither doubles partnership was able to dominate the early stages of a dramatic second semifinal, which featured a string of deuce games, but Alix-Gravellier and Griffioen eventually struck with the first break at 4-2, only for di Toro and Shuker to hit back and lead 5-4.
As the set moved into a tie-break, di Toro and Shuker earned the first breakthrough to lead 4-2 after Griffioen failed to control a volley and Alix-Gravellier twice hit the ball into the net to give di Toro and Shuker the set.
The French-Dutch partnership came out much stronger at the start of the second set, Griffioen serving an ace to give them a double break cushion. However, after di Toro and Shuker had retrieved one of the breaks, the Dutch 25-year-old asked for a mechanical time-out during the next game to tend to the footplate on her tennis chair, which had moved during the game. After a delay of almost 15 minutes to repair Griffioen's chair, di Toro and Shuker immediately dropped two game points, but held on to eventually reduce their arrears to 5-3, before a disputed umpire's overrule saw then face two set points in the next game.
Alix-Gravellier and Griffioen went on to seal the set, but Griffioen's footplate again started causing her problems in the deciding set as the second seeds slipped 2-1 behind. However, it wasn't until the last three games of the match that di Toro and Shuker were able to finally make the decisive breakthrough.
"I didn't feel I was pushing too well or swinging through the ball too well in the first two sets and Danni was fantastic," said Shuker, " but I managed to bring it all together for the final set and we played a much better set and thankfully came away with the win."
Men's semifinals set for Saturday
The wheelchair tennis doubles events will continue on Saturday with Australian Open and Roland Garros champions Stephane Houdet of France and Shingo Kunieda of Japan, who occupy the world's top two rankings in both men's singles and men's doubles between them, facing the all-French pairing of Frederic Cattaneo and Nicolas Peifer. Houdet is bidding follow up his success in the event in 2009, while Kunieda was on the winning team in 2006.
Houdet and Kunieda face Cattaneo and Peifer in the first men's doubles semifinal on Saturday at 12.00 local UK time.
Meanwhile, reigning Wheelchair Tennis Doubles Masters champions Maikel Scheffers and Ronald Vink of the Netherlands have their compatriot Robin Ammerlaan on the other side of the net in the other semifinal. Ammerlaan, who has won the Wimbledon title twice before, partnering Vink to victory in 2007 and 2008, partners Sweden's Stefan Olsson this year.
The second semifinal is schedule to be played not before 16.00 local UK time on Saturday, with both semifinals once again taking place on Court 14.
To download the men's and women's wheelchair doubles draws for the 2010 Championships, Wimbledon, please click here.
The Championships, Wimbledon Official Website
Wimbledon Doubles Preview, Draw, Schedule
Wimbledon Doubles Pairings Announced