Great Britain pair of Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid created history by winning a ninth consecutive Grand Slam title at the Australian Open beating Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina and Japan's Shingo Kunieda 6-2, 4-6, 10-7 in the men's Wheelchair doubles final at Melbourne Park, on Wednesday.
“These kind of records, I think we always take them with a pinch of salt because it’s a little bit different for us to win a Grand Slam title than it may be for people in the other draw. It’s always nice to hear them but, at the same time, I think we just focus on what we’re doing and we’re just enjoying each one as it comes," said Reid, adding, “Just trying to improve and try and push our partnership forward and try and come back better in the next one.”
Andy Lapthorne and David Wagner upset the odds on the penultimate day to lift their fourth quad doubles title together defeating top seeds Sam Schroder and Niels Vink 2-6 6-4 (10-7).
“I think from the celebration at the end you could see how much that one meant to me,” said Lapthorne. “It was a tough proposition before the match to play those two guys. They can clean you off the court pretty quick if you’re not playing well.”
“You're playing the future of the sport,” added Wagner, who has also won two US Open doubles titles partnering Lapthorne. “Those kids (Schroder and Vink) are strong and physical and good. And we’re just trying to survive against those guys sometimes. All wins are great but It's not every day you get to play for a Grand Slam title. And so just to be able to do that and rekindle that partnership with Andy is pretty awesome.”
In the women’s doubles finals, Britain’s Lucy Shuker and Japanese partner Yui Kamiji, the second seeds, put up a spirited effort against top-ranked Dutch pair Diede De Groot and Aniek Van Koot before going down 7-5, 3-6, 10-2.
KUNIEDA, HEWETT AND ALCOTT, SCHRODER IN SINGLES FINAL
After arguably the most important season of his illustrious career in 2021, with the Paralympic Games hosted in his home country, Shingo Kunieda’s hunger for more major titles is seemingly as acute as it has ever been after he battled into yet another Grand Slam final on the third day of wheelchair competition at the Australian Open.
A rematch of the Tokyo 2020 men’s singles gold medal match saw Kunieda drop his first set of tennis to Tom Egberink and Rio silver medallist Egberink looked on course for what would have been a shock victory as he took a 3-0 lead in the final set against World No. 1 Kunieda. However, Kunieda rescued his bid for an 11th Australian Open singles title and a 47th Grand Slam crown as he completed a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory in two hours and 54 minutes.
“Today he played better, much better than in Tokyo so it was tough, but I could recover from 0-3 in the final set ,” said Kunieda as he considered the challenge posed by Egberink. “I played steady and got better and it gave me confidence to fight.”
“Here is my favourite place. It is a good surface for me and the final should be good, too.”
Kunieda insists he is rested after the physical, mental and emotional strains of being one of Japan’s faces of a home Games in Tokyo, but If there are any chinks in Kunieda’s armour then Hewett is the player who will find them out as the world’s top two prepare to meet in their second successive Grand Slam singles final.
“After the US Open I look rest for almost two months, greeting my supporters and celebrating with my friends and with my wife and it was a very happy time for me. I am refreshed now.”
Hewett needed attention from the physio during their 2021 US Open men’s singles final before Kunieda went on to clinch his record-breaking 46th career Grand Slam title in New York, while it was Kunieda who required the physio during the first set of their Melbourne Open Super Series final last week, thereafter retiring at 4-4 in the opening set to give himself time to recover ahead of the Australian Open.
Hopefully both players arrive fully fit for Thursday’s final at Melbourne Park and fans can enjoy a potentially enthralling clash between two players whose career head-to-head currently stands at 13-12 in Kunieda’s favour.
Hewett certainly appears in good form as he seeks his first Australian Open title, having produced a clinical performance in his semi-final against Stephane Houdet and registering 60 winners to the Frenchman’s 33 winners on route to wrapping up a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
“To be in another Grand Slam final is, of course, a great feeling, but I’m not going to rest there," said Hewett.
As appetising as a match-up between Kunieda and Hewett is on Thursday, 27 January, the main course for Australian fans will be Dylan Alcott’s last match of his career in the quad singles final.
Rod Laver Arena has long been reserved for Alcott’s swansong as he bids for an eighth successive Australian Open title. And while he started his latest campaign at Melbourne Park with a three-set win over Niels Vink that had the potential to derail any plans for a triumphant conclusion to his career, Alcott was far more dominant in his semi-final against Andy Lapthorne as he wrapped up a 6-3, 6-0 win.
However, the biggest threat to an eighth Australian Open crown is potentially still to come after Sam Schroder ended hopes of an all-Australian final when he also dropped just three games to Heath Davidson, winning their semi-final 6-1, 6-2.
All-Dutch women’s singles finals at Grand Slams were once routine. Kamiji has more recently made them less of a frequent event, but after her win over Kamiji this week in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, van Koot is part of an all-Dutch final this year after coming from 3-1 down in the first set against 2021 Wimbledon finalist Kgothatso Montjane to win their women’s singles final 6-3, 6-4.
De Groot stands between World No. 3 van Koot and a second Australian Open title after last season’s Golden Slam winner beat Shuker 6-0, 7-5 in the other semi-final.