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Wheelchair Tennis Australian Open Kicks Off in Melbourne Park

Esther Vergeer Esther Vergeer has been the top women's Wheelchair Tennis player in the world for the last decade. © • Adam Fradgley
Michael Jeremiasz Michael Jeremiasz of France © • Getty Images Maikel Scheffers. Maikel Scheffers. © • Ian Findlay Aniek van Koot Netherland's Aniek van Koot at the 2011 Australian Open. © • Getty Images David Wagner David Wagner (USA) in action against Peter Norfolk (GBR) in the Men's Quad Wheelchair Singles Final during day thirteen of the 2011 Australian Open. © • Getty Images

The 2012 Australian Open Wheelchair Championships will be held at Melbourne Park from 25-28 January, featuring 20 of the world’s top wheelchair tennis players. The Championships form part of the 2012 NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour, organized by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), and comprising a total of 173 tournaments in 45 countries.

Eight men, eight women and four quad players will contest both singles and doubles events. The current world No. 1 players Maikel Scheffers (NED), Esther Vergeer (NED) and David Wagner (USA) head the entries for the men’s, women’s and quad single,s respectively. The field also includes Japanese players Satoshi Saida and Yui Kamiji.

Scheffers ended the four-year reign of Shingo Kunieda as world No. 1 in December and Kunieda’s recent withdrawal from the men’s event due to injury means there will be a new name of the roll of honour at the Australian Open for the first time since the Wheelchair Tennis events at the Grand Slams took on Grand Slam status in 2009.

This year’s men’s event could be more open than ever before, asScheffers has lost twice this year to French former world No.1 Michael Jeremiasz, most recently in Monday’s men’s final at the Sydney International Open, the first Super Series tournament of the year.

Jeremiasz was not ranked high enough to qualify for this year’s Australian Open, but there will be plenty of challengers as Scheffers’ bids to follow up his 2011 Roland Garros title, including fellow Dutchman Ronald Vink, 2011 runner-up Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer of France and Sweden’s Stefan Olsson.

Saida comes into the men's field following Kunieda's withdrawal and the Japanese world No. 8 remains the last player to beat Kunieda at the Australian Open Wheelchair Championships, having won their quarterfinal match in 2006.

Esther Vergeer once again starts as a hot favourite in the women’s singles, having dropped just four games in seven

matches this year, including two wins over her compatriot and world No. 2 Aniek van Koot in the Melbourne Open and the Sydney International Open finals. Van Koot, Dutch world No. 4 Marjolein Buis and Australia’s Daniela di Toro will be among the strongest challengers at Melbourne Park.

Israel’s world No.3 Noam Gershony beat American world No. 1 David Wagner of USA in Monday’s quad singles final in Sydney and will be a strong threat to Wagner’s Australian Open title defence alongside Britain’s Peter Norfolk and Andrew Lapthorne.