Photo: Steve WylieJoachim Gerard (BEL)
Shingo Kunieda and Joachim Gerard and Jiske Griffioen and Yui Kamiji will contest Monday’s men’s and women’s singles finals at the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters after a series of fascinating semifinals on Saturday in Mission Viejo, California.
Gerard and Kamiji’s progress to their respective finals comes on their debuts at the prestigious year-end championships for the world’s top singles players.
With the world’s top two players going head-to-head in the men’s singles semifinals, world No. 1 Kunieda and world No. 2 Stephane Houdet went in to their match with three wins apiece over each other far this season, with Houdet having beaten his Japanese opponent in two out of three Grand Slam finals.
Kunieda started the stronger and after securing an immediate break he took a 4-1 lead before coming from two game points down in the eight game to secure the first set. It was Houdet’s turn to earn a break at the start of the second set and although Kunieda broke back, the Frenchman won the last four games to force a decider.
Kunieda went on to dominate the final set, building a 5-0 lead before Houdet showed signs of a recovery and saved a string of match points en route to pulling back his deficit to 5-2. However, it was defending champion Kunieda that finally wrapped up a 62 26 62 victory to reach his second successive NEC Masters final.
World No. 6 Gerard continued his highly impressive NEC Masters debut as the Belgian secured a 62 64 win over Argentina’s world No. 5 Gustavo Fernandez in the other semifinal. Gerard secured his third win over Fernandez in 11 career meetings and his second in five matches this season, with Fernandez acknowledging on his Twitter page that he had been beaten by ‘an opponent who was superior in every aspect’.
Gerard will now play Kunieda for the first time since 2009, when Kunieda won both of their matches comfortably. However, Gerard’s progress to the final is part of what has already been a landmark season for the 25-year-old, who has reached a career best ranking of No. 4 this season and won his first Super Series title.
Griffioen and Kamiji reach women’s final
Defending women’s singles champion Griffioen wasted little time in earning her place in the final of the NEC Masters for the second successive year after a 62 60 win over Britain’s world No. 7 Jordanne Whiley.
Having lost to Whiley for the first time in August, Griffioen has now won her last two matches against Whiley for the loss of just two games and goes in to Monday’s women’s final in Mission Viejo having dropped just one set so far. That came against 19-year-old Kamiji in their round-robin meeting on Wednesday, with Kamiji going on to finish runner-up to the Dutchwoman in Pool 2.
Kamiji had a much tougher semifinal against Dutch world No. 5 Marjolein Buis. After winning the first two games of the third and deciding set she saw Buis draw level again before finally taking the last two games for a 64 26 75 victory. It was her second win from two matches against Buis this season and Kamiji has now emulated 14-time champion Esther Vergeer in reaching the final of the NEC Masters at her first attempt.
Kamiji goes in to Monday’s final against world No. 3 Griffioen with just one career win over Griffioen to date, which came in March 2012. Wednesday’s round-robin pool match was their only meeting to date this year.
With Germany’s world No. 2 Sabine Ellerbrock withdrawing from her final play-off match, Dutchwoman Sharon Walraven claimed fifth place in the women’s singles, while South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane beat Britain’s Lucy Shuker in the seventh place play-off for the second successive year. Montjane won 63 64.
World No. 7 Michael Jeremiasz sealed fifth place in the men’s singles after edging past Britain’s world No. 4 Gordon Reid 63 46 75.
Meanwhile, after not being able to win any of his round-robin matches, Netherlands’ 2009 NEC Masters champion Maikel Scheffers finished seventh after a 62 64 win over Frenchman Nicolas Peifer. Peifer will leave California with the consolation of his first career win over Kunieda in their round-robin pool match earlier in the week.