A new name will be added to the Wheelchair Tennis Masters quad singles roll of honour this year after the 25th edition of the ITF’s year-end wheelchair singles championship reached the end of its round-robin phase on Friday’s third day of play in Orlando.
Meanwhile, three previous champions will contest both the men’s singles and women’s singles semifinals on Saturday’s penultimate day of play at the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona.
A fascinating conclusion to the two round-robin pools in the quad singles resulted in ten-time champion David Wagner missing out on a place in the last four this year by a mere 1.5 per cent on count back of games won against games played.
With Wagner having already completed his two Pool A matches with one win and one loss, Friday’s matches saw world No. 3 Andy Lapthorne and world No. 6 Lucas Sithole finish with the same record after Sithole crucially defeated Lapthorne 6-4 6-4 to snatch second place in the pool behind the Briton.
“It’s always a weird situation when you know what you need to do to get through. We’re so used to playing under the pressure of knockout, but it’s quite tough to come out and play that way when you’re in a good position within the group,” said Laphorne.
“But no excuses, Lucas came out and played really well and we all know what he’s capable of. Fair play to him, that’s the best I’ve seen him play for a good couple of years, so congrats to him. But now we go into the knockout round and that’s wat we’re all here for.”
Lapthorne will play Japan’s world No. 4 Koji Sugeno for a place in the final after NEC Masters first-timer Sugeno edged out Australia’s Heath Davidson 6-1 4-6 6-3 in their last Pool B match. Meanwhile, having topped Pool B world No.2 Dylan Alcott will meet Sithole in the semis as the Australian continues his bid to add one of the few major titles still to elude him.
Capocci joins former champions in women’s semis
Having start her first NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters with a three-set win over world No. 4 Sabine Ellerbrock, Giulia Capocci confirmed her place in the women’s semi-finals with another three-set win against Lucy Shuker.
Italy’s world No. 6 went into her final round-robin contest having won one of her previous two matches against Shuker this season and had to fight back from 3-1 down in the final set on this occasion before finally wrapping up a 6-4 4-6 6-3 to earn second place in Pool A and a semi-final against champion Yui Kamiji.
After two three-set wins over Dutch opponents Aniek van Koot and Marjolein Buis, Kamiji’s progress in her last round-robin match was decidedly smoother, the world No. 2 easing her way through to a 6-1 6-1 win over South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane and pole position in Pool B.
Top spot in Pool A duly went to world No. 1 and reigning NEC Masters champion Diede de Groot, the only one of Saturday’s four semi-finalists yet to drop a set in Orlando after defeating Germany’s Sabine Ellerbrock 6-2 6-4.
As with so many of the previous 24 Masters, this year’s championship will feature an all-Dutch women’s semi-final after 2014 champion Aniek van Koot turned around a 2-0 first set deficit against her compatriot Marjolein Buis to secure second place in Pool B with a 6-4 6-3 win. Van Koot briefly stuttered at 5-1 up in the second set, but she soon steadied herself and will now attempt to beat de Groot for a third time this year and for the first time outside of a Super Series semi-final.
“It’s always special indeed to play a fellow Dutch player and friend like Marjolein in these matches. You wish each other well, but you want it more for yourself. It’s tough, but I’ve had that in previous years many, many times with Jiske (Griffioen) over the years,” said van Koot.
“Today was much, much better (than her previous matches in Orlando). Against Kamiji it was good, but there were too many ups and downs and I’m hoping to improve my game for tomorrow and to keep the process I’ve been training with in mind for the long term goal.”
Fernandez joins trio of past champions in men’s semis
Like de Groot in the women’s singles, world No. 3 and second seed Gustavo Fernandez is the only one of the semi-finalists in the men’s singles yet to drop a set after the 2017 ITF World Champion made it four wins in five matches this season against 2011 Masters champion and world No. 5 Stephane Houdet, claiming their latest head-to-head 6-3 6-3.
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Argentinian finds himself in the same position as Capocci does in the women’s semis, lining up alongside three former champions. After securing top spot in Pool B Fernandez will now bid to halt the progress of three-time former champion Shingo Kunieda.
Four years ago, when the Masters was last held in USA, Kunieda joined Kamiji in securing a Japanese doubles in the men’s and women’s singles and a repeat of that feat is still a possibility after Kunieda prevailed in his must-win last round-robin match against fellow UNIQLO Global Brand Ambassador Gordon Reid.
For the first time in three years Reid will not contest the men’s singles final after a fine display from Kunieda secured a 6-3 6-2 win and second position in Pool A.
“There was no pressure today. I lost yesterday and therefore usually I would not have another chance in the tournament, but in the Masters it’s a very good thing that we have the round-robin. The last two days was not so good, but today I could play my game,” said Kunieda.
The top position in Pool A went to Stefan Olsson. Ten years on from the Swede winning his first of two Masters titles and with victories over Reid and Kunieda in his first two matches, Olsson continued in his rich vein of form to beat Nicolas Peifer 6-1 6-1.
Having enjoyed a fruitful season in doubles competition partnering Joachim Gerard, Olsson will now play Gerard for a place in the 2018 final. Gerard faltered at 5-3 up in the second set of his final round-robin match against Takashi Sanada, allowing Sanada to force a decider. However, the Belgian showed no signs of a repeat in the final set as he reeled of four games in a row for a 6-3 6-7(8) 6-2 victory.