In the previous three years, the Roland Garros men’s wheelchair single title has been shared between France’s Stephane Houdet and Japan’s Shingo Kunieda.
The Frenchman won the tournament twice consecutively until the current world No. 1 player stopped him in his tracks last year. But Houdet, ranked No. 2 in the world, has a chance to take back the title starting on Wednesday (3 May), when the second Grand Slam of the wheelchair tennis season gets underway in at Roland Garros – the home of French tennis – in Paris.
“Roland Garros is my home and my best memories belong to this French event,” Houdet said. “Winning again would be a huge accomplishment, but three times is only one third of what Rafa [Rafael Nadal] has done already.”
Houdet last won his home Grand Slam in 2013 after a mammoth match against Kunieda, ending in a 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(5) victory for Houdet. The final set mirrored the one in the 2012 French Open final, where the pair played for several hours and the Championship was won in a final set tie-break by Houdet.
“Roland Garros was my first slam title, and I became world No. 1 after a huge battle versus Shingo. We fought for three hours before I won 7-6 in the third,” Houdet, 44, said.
“The match was so close, and we could not imagine the same scenario for the year after, but the same happened.”
The French Open is the second Grand Slam on the tour after the Australian Open in January, when Houdet lost in the final 6-2, 6-2 to Kunieda in Melbourne. Fast forward six months, Houdet hopes he can avenge that loss.
“Hoping is the word,” Houdet joked.
“Obviously it would be great to do so, but before I think about Shingo, I have to focus on the first round and so on until the last match.
“I remember last year when Gustavo Fernandez had two match points versus him in the semis. The level is so high now that we cannot focus on two players.”
The Grand Slams receive far more attention than other tour events, and this year’s event at Roland Garros will run alongside the final week of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) French Open.
“Slams are the biggest event on tour. They are where we share the big points, as well as the locker room with the top players [from the ATP Tour], who we love to watch after our matches,” Houdet said.
It is not just the single’s title that Houdet will be looking to win, as the chance for a sixth French Open double’s title is also up for grabs.
The Frenchman will have the backing of the home crowd as he searches for his third Roland Garros single’s title.
“I really like the fact that people enjoy coming to watch wheelchair tennis and support the players,” Houdet said. “All my entourage is behind me and because of their focus on you, you play better as you feel this added focus and you give your best.”
Visit the International Tennis Federation’s website to follow the Roland Garros wheelchair tennis event.