Top seeds Shingo Kunieda, Diede de Groot and Dylan Alcott launched the defence of their Australian Open wheelchair tennis titles in style on 23 January.
Men’s world No. 1 Kunieda faced the sternest of first-round showdowns but rose to the occasion in near-flawless fashion.
The Japanese produced just one unforced error in the first set against reigning US Open champion Alfie Hewett, beating the Brit for the first time in their last three meetings 6-1, 6-4 at Melbourne Park.
“My last two matches, I lost against him,” said the 34-year-old, who is chasing his 10th Australian Open title in 2019. “And this is the first match for me – it was tough, very tough mentally.
“The first set, and the second set up to 4-1, was perfect for me, but I know Alfie is a tough opponent. After 4-1 he rushed a lot and found good power shots. They pushed me, but I set my mind to calm and felt in control.
“I think my conditioning is very good now, so my confidence is high for the next match,” added Kunieda, who will face Stefan Olsson in the semi-finals after the Swede downed doubles partner Joachim Gerard 6-4, 6-3.
Argentinian world No. 2 Gustavo Fernandez made light work of Australian wildcard Ben Weekes, winning 6-1, 6-1 to set up a semi-final showdown against Stephane Houdet. The Frenchman achieved a hard-fought 7-6(8), 5-7, 6-2 victory over Great Britain’s Gordon Reid.
De Groot eases past Shuker
In the women’s draw, Netherlands’ de Groot routed Lucy Shuker 6-0, 6-0 in just 38 minutes and will next face compatriot Marjolein Buis, who defeated Germany’s Sabine Ellerbrock 61 64.
No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji found the going much tougher against Italian Grand Slam debutant Guilia Capocci, who impressed while pushing her opponent before going out 7-6(3), 6-3. Another Dutchwoman, Aniek van Koot, awaits in the semi-finals after downing South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane 6-1, 7-5.
Alcott starts strong
The home star took a break from his commentating and presenting duties at Melbourne Park to begin his bid for a fifth straight quad singles title with a triumph over fellow Australian Heath Davidson.
“It’s always so hard playing Heath,” said Alcott, who won 6-3, 6-2. “We’re best mates – not just in tennis, proper best mates. It’s a bummer, but it’s a round-robin, so if he beats the other two and I keep winning, we can meet in the final.”
Alcott also paid tribute to the crowds that made their way to Courts 7 and 8 to catch the wheelchair tennis action.
“It’s been an incredible couple of weeks,” he said. “But you know what? Seeing all those people, all those kids there with disabilities coming to watch today, how amazing is that? They came early, they’ll be here the whole day. It’s so cool.”
In the day’s other quad singles match, USA’s David Wagner held off Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory.