Photo: Lu Guang / Chen GongShingo Kunieda (JPN)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN Shingo Kunieda of Japan will play Rafael Medeiros of Brazil when the Beijing 2008 gold medallist opens his bid to become the first player to win back-to-back Paralympic men’s singles titles on Saturday at Eton Manor.
“I think every first round draw is tough, everyone has pressure and no one really knows, so let’s see,” said Kunieda, who is drawn in the same half of the draw as Dutchmen Robin Ammerlaan, who Kunieda denied back-to-back gold medals in the Beijing final, and Ronald Vink, who reached the Beijing semifinals.
Kunieda beat 2004 gold medallist Ammerlaan to the gold medal in Beijing after Ammerlaan had done the same to Sydney 2000 gold medallist Australian David Hall in Athens, but the Japanese player has had to come back from elbow surgery earlier in February this year and began his rehabilitation hitting with low compression balls before playing his first tournament in May.
Kunieda has made significant improvements each tournament since, to the extent that the four-time ITF World Champion is back to world No. 2, having dropped to No. 5 earlier in the year. He looked to be back to his best when winning July’s British Open and is possibly the player to beat again in London.
Vink is drawn in the same half of the draw as Kunieda this time and the fourth seed could meet the second seed in the semifinals, should be progress to the same stage of the Paralympic Tennis Event he reached in Beijing, where he started as eleventh seed.
“I think the draw is fine for me, I’m very happy with the doubles draw. In Beijing there was no pressure on me and I was surprised myself. No one was watching me, but this time I am world No. 4 so there is more pressure. I could have a tough third round against (Satoshi) Saida and maybe it could go three. It’s a long time since I played him. So I’m curious to see how it goes, I’m curious to see what goes on outside with the weather, too” said Vink.
There could be an enticing quarterfinal in store with world No. 1 Stephane Houdet of France and world No. 5 Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina drawn in the same half of the draw. But before then there are plenty of intriguing first round match-ups, including Gordon Reid’s match against Takuya Miki of Japan
“Everyone is here for a reason, so whoever you will play it will be tough, but I’m quite happy at the moment and just looking forward to getting started now. I’m just taking one match at a time,” said Reid who, with a world ranking of No. 9, is the leading British player in the draw.
Beijing bronze medallist Maikel Scheffers of the Netherlands could also have a tough first match against the powerful Polish player Tadeusz Kruszelnicki, one of the most experience players in the field. Meanwhile, Austria’s Martin Legner, the 15th seed, will begin his sixth successive Paralympic Tennis Event with a match against Korea’s Sang-Ho Oh.
Young Dutchman Tom Egberink’s first round match against Briton Marc McCarroll is another match to look out for on Saturday’s first day of play, with McCarroll guaranteed strong home support.
The men’s doubles draw sees the four top seeds have first round byes, with top seeds and Beijing gold medallists Stephane Houdet and Michael Jeremiasz of France potentially on course for a quarterfinal against Athens gold medallists and Beijing bronze medallists Kunieda and Saida.
After just missing out on a doubles bronze medal with Scheffers in Beijing, Vink partners Ammerlaan this time in London and the duo are second seeds, while Scheffers and Egberink are third seeds. With French and Dutch partnerships dominating the top seeded positions, Frederic Cattaneo and Nicolas Peifer of Fracne are forurth seeds, while Beijing silver medallists Stefan Olsson and Peter Vikstorm of Sweden are the sixth seeds.
Click the PDF links below to view the full men’s singles and doubles drawsheets.