After falling at the final hurdle on three occasions to Japan’s Shingo Kunieda at the Australian Open in Melbourne, France’s Stephane Houdet will be hoping it is fourth time lucky on Saturday (30 January) when the two meet in this year’s wheelchair tennis men’s singles final.
Five years ago Houdet had two match points to win the one Grand Slam title that has eluded him thus far but was unable to close out the match. The French second seed will try once more on Saturday after a 3-6 6-2 6-3 semi-final victory on Thursday (28 January) against Belgium's Joachim Gerard.
Houdet said: “I remember I had two match points a few years ago against Shingo here on Show Court 2. He hit two balls on the line. My father always thinks I have won a slam because he saw one of them out but my name is not on the trophy. It would be a nice goal to complete.”
An already bulging collection of 16 Grand Slam titles has not in any way lessened Houdet's motivation at the age of 44. In fact, he is hugely excited about soon taking to the court in a new chair which he claims could revolutionise the sport.
He said: “I am working on a new project, a new chair, which for me will be a revolution. Instead of sitting, I am going to play on my knees. It's almost like able bodied [players]. I will use my pelvis which is something we don't do while sitting.
“I'm a former tennis player and since the beginning I wanted to play in the position I used to play. I've been working with a team of researchers.
“I will have the new chair in March. The French Open will be the first slam I am going to play with, hopefully a few small tournaments before.”
But first he takes on top seed Kunieda, who came back from a set down to beat Argentina's Gustavo Fernandez 6-7(5) 6-1 6-2 in a rematch of last year's Melbourne and New York finals.
Houdet and Kunieda are also doubles partners here and the top seeds cruised through to the final, beating the German and Australian pairing of Nicolas Peifer and Adam Kellerman 6-1 6-0. In the other semi-final Fernandez and Britain’s Gordon Reid beat second seeds Gerard and Maikel Scheffers of the Netherland 6-1 7-5.
Japanese hopes are high for another singles winner in Melbourne as top seed Yui Kamiji reached the final of the women's event with a 6-2 6-1 victory against Germany’s defending champion Sabine Ellerbrock.
It sets up a final against the Netherlands' Jiskie Griffioen, the 11-time Grand Slam doubles champion who has a shot at her first major singles title after beating compatriot Aniek Van Koot, the second seed, 6-4 6-4.
Kamiji, 20, said: "Today I had very good feelings and I knew what I had to do and I did. I'm very happy. I have not won this tournament so I really want it. I am very excited now.”
First, Kamiji will bid on Friday for the women's wheelchair doubles title as she and Great Britain's Jordanne Whiley beat the Dutch-German pairing of Sharon Walraven and Katharina Kruger 6-4 6-3.
The Japanese and British combination has proved hugely successful, winning the calendar Grand Slam last year, and have overcome any potential language barrier.
Kamiji said: "My English is not good but we talk many times and we are best friends. Sometimes we talk in English and sometimes Japanese. I taught her some Japanese and she always teaches me English so we can communicate."
The pair take on Griffioen and Van Koot, who saw off Ellerbrock and Marjolein Buis 6-4 6-2.
The round-robin stage of the quad wheelchair singles continued as Australian second seed Dylan Alcott beat defending champion and top seed David Wagner, of the USA, 6-4 6-4.
Great Britain’s US Open champion Andrew Lapthorne suffered his second successive defeat as he was beaten 6-3 7-6(4) by South African Lucas Sithole.
Laphorne, however, later made up for it as he and Wagner claimed the quad wheelchair doubles title, beating Sithole and Alcott 6-0 3-6 6-2.