Stephane Houdet of France and Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands won the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters men’s and women’s singles titles for 2011 on Saturday in front of hundreds of spectators at Heiveld Tennis Centre, in Mechelen, Belgium.
MEN’S FINAL: Stephane Houdet (FRA) d. Maikel Scheffers (NED) 64 76(2)
A highly competitive and entertaining men’s final saw Houdet play an exemplary first set as a few too many errors from Scheffers allowed the French world No. 3 to open up a 4-2 lead. It was a cushion that Houdet, playing in his second successive NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters final, was to maintain as he seized the initiative.
After successive exchanges of deuces in the third and fourth games of the second set Houdet again earned the first break to lead 3-1 as the crowd marvelled at standard of tennis from both players and Houdet maintained the pressure to extend his advantage to 4-1.
However, Scheffers upped his level and huge forehand winners delivered with pinpoint accuracy saw him retrieve a break to trail 4-3 before Scheffers came from 40-15 down to take yet another game to deuce with a sublime backhand drop shot. Scheffers twice had the advantage to level the scores and powered another huge forehand winner as he once more prevented Houdet from opening up a 5-3 lead. Houdet then tried his own backhand drop shot, but it landed out, allowing Scheffers to draw level at 4-4.
With an increasing number of errors creeping into Houdet’s game, Scheffers took the lead for the first time in the set at 5-4, but Houdet’s serve forced errors from Scheffers in the next game.
Yet another forehand winner finished off the eleventh game of the set as Scheffers again edged 6-5 ahead, but he faced to game points against him as Houdet tried to force a tiebreak. Scheffers saved the first of Houdet’s game points with a backhand drop shot, but missed an attempt at a backhand winner as Houdet finally took the a tense set into a tiebreak.
Although Scheffers won the first point of the tiebreak, Houdet gained the first breakthrough with a backhand winner down the line to lead 3-1 and Scheffers showed signs of nerves as he sent the ball into the net on the next point. By this time Houdet’s penetrating serve was proving to be a reliable weapon and he extended his lead in the tiebreak to 5-1. Scheffers made another backhand dropshot to give himself hope of staying in the final, but his forehand let him down on the next two points and the Dutchman sent one final ball into the net on the first of four match points for Houdet.
“My plan was to keep putting pressure on Maikel and that worked until I was 4-1 up in the second set, but as my level dropped for a while he upped his game,” said a delighted Houdet after winning his first NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters title. “After that I tried to make my serve count for me and I was surprised when he made mistakes on his forehand in the tiebreak as it is usually so good.
“It is a very special day for me as I have Spanish friends in the crowd and one young lady who helped save my life after my (motorbike) accident. Also, friends from the French club I play for rang me yesterday and said they were coming to watch the final, so I am very happy I could win in front of all of them.”
Ronald Vink (NED) d. Robin Ammerlaan (NED) 63 63
After his semifinal loss to Scheffers, Vink clinched the last four games of the first set and the first two games of the second set to give himself the crucial advantage over six-time former NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters champion Ammerlaan and the world No. 6 claimed third place in the men’s event
WOMEN’S FINAL: Esther Vergeer (NED) d. Aniek van Koot (NED) 61 62
World No. 1 Vergeer dominated the early exchanges against van Koot, closing out her second service game to love to earn a double break.
However, playing in her first NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters final, van Koot was not afraid to throw everything she had at Vergeer and pulled off some impressive forehand and backhand winners throughout the match, not least when she got her first game to trail 4-1.
Vergeer started the next game with a double fault and van Koot went on to earn three successive game points, but Vergeer’s experience and powerful ground strokes saw her pull back to deuce and then extend her lead once more, despite van Koot’s best efforts.
The first set closed with Vergeer earning two set points and she gained another break of her opponent’s serve when van Koot mishit a forehand that went flying long over Vergeer’s baseline.
Vergeer finished the first game of the second set with an ace and dropped just three points in the first three games as he established yet another commanding lead. The rally of the match came in the fourth game of the second set as Vergeer saved the first of two game points, but van Koot’s resolve stayed strong and she won the game. Backhand winners, firstly from Vergeer and then from van Koot, finished the next two games before Vergeer served out to love with an ace to open up a 5-2 lead. The defending champion subsequently broke van Koot’s serve to love to wrap up her 14th successive NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters title, van Koot ending the match in the same way she ended the first set, with another forehand going astray.
“After winning fourteen NEC Masters titles I really feel like this is my tournament as I’ve won it so many times in the Netherlands so I’ve very happy to win the first one here in Belgium,” said Vergeer after completing her 434th successive match win in her winning streak. “Aniek played some great tennis today and made it hard for me at times, so congratulations to her on a great match and I hope we will have many more good matches next season.”
The presentation parties included Naoki Iizuka, President and Chairman of the board, NEC Europe, Hitoshi Suzuki, General Manager of Social Contributions and CSR Promotions, NEC Corporation and Stuart Smith, Chairman, ITF Wheelchair Tennis Committee.
Jiske Griffioen (NED) d. Marjolein Buis (NED) 62 64
After her semifinal loss to van Koot, world No. 2 and former finalist Griffioen ended her tournament on a winning note by clinching the last four games of the opening set and building on a 3-0 second set lead to claim third place in the women’s singles