Griffioen hunts first Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne

Opening day of Australian Open competition sees no major shocks as big names make progress. 28 Jan 2015
Female wheelchair tennis player in action on a blue court

Dutch wheelchair tennis player Jiske Griffioen at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

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More than 14 years ago, a young Jiske Griffioen travelled Down Under for the first time to represent the Netherlands at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics in wheelchair basketball.

Shortly after, the then-15-year-old decided to switch to wheelchair tennis. Eleven Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic medals later, it is safe to say it was the right choice.

Griffioen, now aged 29, began her Australian Open women's wheelchair singles campaign on Wednesday (28 January) with a hard-fought 6-3 4-6 6-3 quarter-final win against compatriot Marjolein Buis.

She said: "We know each other really well. We have played so many matches against each other. It was a tough one today. I know her game, I know what I have to do, it just didn't work out as well as I planned this time but I’m happy to pull it out in the end."

Griffioen's sporting career would almost certainly not have been as decorated had she opted to play wheelchair basketball when faced with a choice between the two sports after the Sydney Paralympics.

She said: "I didn't have a lot of playing time but it was great for me to experience that kind of event as a team at first. I was playing tennis at that time as well. After the Paralympics in Sydney I had to make a decision and I chose tennis.

"I love team events but the challenge of tennis [is that] as an individual everything comes down to you. You can’t hide on the court, you just have to do it all yourself and that's what attracted me more. I think there was more competition in tennis as well in Holland so I chose the challenge."

For all her success in the sport, Griffioen has never claimed a Grand Slam title in singles, with all her victories coming in doubles, and she is determined to end that particular drought.

She said: "That's one of my goals for this year and next year. In doubles I have been very successful. There have been a lot of times where I just didn't clinch some matches. I'm close but I still have to do it."

Griffioen now faces another fellow countrywoman in second seed Aniek van Koot, who comfortably beat Jordanne Whiley 6-2 6-0.

Japanese top seed Yui Kamiji opened her campaign for a third Grand Slam singles title with a 6-3 6-1 win against the Netherlands’ Sharon Walraven, and faces a semi-final against defending champion Sabine Ellerbrock after the German defeated compatriot Katharina Kruger 6-2 6-1.

In the men's wheelchair singles quarter-finals, Belgium's Joachim Gerard negotiated some tricky conditions to beat Nicolas Peifer 7-5 6-1. He said: "I'm very happy because it is my first victory in a Grand Slam. It was not easy to play today because it was really windy."

The 26-year-old trains as part of the pro team at the Justine Henin Academy in Limelette and the former world No. 1 follows his progress, as well as giving him some advice which in actual fact came in handy during Wednesday’s victory.

Gerard said: "She is interested by what I do. Sometimes she asks for news from my coach. She gave us some advice for me last year because it was my first time on the blue courts. She said it was tiring and hard for the eyes. She said we have to be focused more and try to do our best.

"She also said it is very windy and we have to accept that we might not play our best and that's what happened today. We think we can take the advantage of her good experience."

Gerard now faces a semi-final against second seed Stephane Houdet of France, who beat Australian Adam Kellerman 6-2 6-2.

Seventeen-time Grand Slam singles champion Shingo Kuneida of Japan beat Dutch man Maikel Scheffers 6-2 6-3 and the top seed will play Argentinian Gustavo Fernandez, who beat his British doubles partner Gordon Reid 6-2 6-4.

In the opening matches in the round-robin stage of the quad wheelchair singles, there were comfortable wins for both David Wagner, of the USA, and Australian Dylan Alcott.

Top seed and defending champion Wagner beat South African Lucas Sithole 6-3 6-1 in a rematch of last year’s final, while No. 2 seed Alcott defeated US Open champion Andrew Lapthorne, of Great Britain, 6-4 6-4.