World No. 1 Shingo Kunieda's bid for a fifth straight Roland Garros title came to a sensational end on Thursday when the Japanese player was beaten by Dutch world No. 2 Maikel Scheffers in a thrilling contest that ended in a third and deciding set tie-break.
A fascinating second day of wheelchair tennis competition in Paris also saw Nicolas Peifer defeat men's second seed Stephane Houdet, while Marjolein Buis reached her first Grand Slam final. However, there was no surprise as to who Buis will play in Friday's all-Dutch women's singles final after Esther Vergeer produced another scintillating performance.
MEN: Scheffers ends Kunieda title defence in thriller
Unbeaten since losing to Frenchman Stephane Houdet in the semifinals of November's NEC Singles Masters in Amsterdam, Kunieda took an early 4-1 lead over Scheffers before maintaining his advantage to take the opening set 6-3.
Kunieda then clinched the first game of the second set before Scheffers found another gear to win five games in succession. The seventh game of the set went to deuce before Kunieda snatched it and both players had chances to take the eighth game, with Scheffers missing the opportunity to wrap up the set there and then as Kunieda clawed back another game. However, Scheffers finally got the game he needed to take the semifinal into a deciding set.
Scheffers struck first in the third set, securing an immediate break, but Kunieda broke twice in succession to lead 4-2 and it looked like the momentum was firmly in his favour as the clung on to his title. Kunieda served for the match at 5-3 up and had a match point at 40-30, but Scheffers would not be denied and levelled the deciding set at 5-5 before again coming from a game down to force the tiebreak.
As he had earlier in the set, Kunieda gained the first breakthrough in the tiebreak to lead 4-2 and then 5-3, but Scheffers made sure that it was he who had the final say, winning four points in a row to convert his first match points to cap a tremendous 36 63 76(5) victory.
The Dutchman's victory ensures that a new name will appear on the Roland Garros roll of honour for the first time since a wheelchair tennis tournament was introduced at Roland Garros in 2007.
Scheffers' historic victory in the second men's semifinal followed another enthralling match in which world No. 5 Peifer reached his second Grand Slam final at the expense of fellow Frenchman Houdet.
Peifer and Houdet were level at 3-3 in the first set after each winning three games in a row, but Houdet could never get ahead and Peifer sealed a decisive break in the 12th game on his second set point.
It was world No. 3 Houdet who gained the first breakthrough in the second set to lead 3-1, but Peifer broke straight back and once again it was the final two games of the set that proved crucial as 20-year-old Peifer wrapped up a 75 75 victory after an hour and 45 minutes.
Peifer and Scheffers have only met once so far this season, with Scheffers winning their semifinal at April's Florida Open 76(2) 64. However, their last previous match before that was in the semifinals of the 2010 US Open in New York, when Peifer won 75 76(3) to reach his first Grand Slam final. On the evidence of those last two matches, Friday's final in Paris could be another epic encounter.
WOMEN: Buis beats second seed Griffioen to reach first Grand Slam final
World No. 7 Buis was a semifinalist in her first Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January, but went one better than that on Thursday in Paris as she avenged her recent Japan Open final loss to fellow Dutchwoman Jiske Griffioen in three sets.
After Griffioen secured an early break to lead 3-1, Buis responded to level the opening set of their semifinal at 4-4. Griffioen then served for the set at 5-4 up, but had to wait until the tiebreak to seize the initiative.
The early staged of the second set saw both players exchange service breaks, but Buis held her serve in the eight game to move 5-3 ahead. It was Griffioen's turn to hold next before earning a break back at 5-5, but the pattern continued over the next two games and Buis confidently served out the set on the first of her three sets points.
Buis always had a slim advantage for the first five games of the deciding set and after briefly slipping 4-3 down she hit back to lead 5-4 before once again managing to pull off another vital break at the end of the set to prevail 67(4) 75 75, three hours and 13 minutes after the match had started.
The other semifinal was won in completely different circumstances as world No. 1 Vergeer produced another staggering display of dominance.
The four-time Roland Garros champion established a 5-0 lead over her compatriot Aniek van Koot after just 14 minutes of play and although van Koot took the next game to deuce, she was unable to gain a first break point of the match and Vergeer wrapped up the set in 19 minutes, having won 25 points against van Koot's nine points.
Vergeer was even more devastating in the second set and served out on the first of her three match points to post a 60 60 victory that took her 39 minutes, allowing van Koot just seven points against the 24 that the eleven-time ITF World Champion needed to book her place in yet another Grand Slam final.
Top seeds Kunieda and Peifer overhaul Beijing champions in doubles semifinal
With reigning Wimbledon champions and 2010 Roland Garros runners-up Robin Ammerlaan of the Netherlands and Stefan Olsson of Sweden already in the men's doubles final, Beijing 2008 Paralympci champions Houdet and Michael Jeremiasz gave the Parisian crowds much hope as they sped through the first set of their semifinal against Kunieda and Peifer 6-1. But, from 4-2 up in the second set Kunieda and Peifer went on to comfortably take the set to force a deciding champions tiebreak.
The all-French duo of Houdet and Jeremiasz led the champions tiebreak 4-2 before Kunieda and Peifer drew level at 4-4 and 6-6 and they went on to clinch four of the next five points to round off a 16 62 (10-7) victory.
Roland Garros was the only one of the three Grand Slams that Vergeer and Sharon Walraven played together in 2010 that the duo did not win, finishing runners-up in Paris to Australia's Daniela di Toro and van Koot. However, this year the top seeds will have the chance to seal a sweep of all four successive Grand Slam titles, having won Wimbledon and the US Open New York in 2010 and this year's Australian Open.
Vergeer and Walraven took a commanding 5-2 lead in their semifinal against Buis and Belgium's Annick Sevenans before comfortably taking the first set and broke in the second set to lead 4-2 en route to a 63 63 victory.
Friday's final will be an all-Dutch contest, with Vergeer and Walraven facing second seeds Griffioen and van Koot in the last scheduled wheelchair tennis match at Roland Garros in 2011.
Roland Garros Official Website
Friday's wheelchair tennis finals are all scheduled to take place on courts 7, with play scheduled to start at 11.00 local time with the men's singles final, followed by the women's singles final.
LIVE SCORING for all matches will be available HERE when play begins at 11.00 local Paris time on Friday, 3 June.
The full schedule of play for Friday, 3 June can be found HERE.