Seventh heaven for Shingo Kunieda at Australian Open

Japan’s Shingo Kunieda picked up his seventh Australian Open crown, as Germany’s Sabine Ellerbrock and the USA’s David Wagner also won titles. 25 Jan 2014
Shingo Kunieda

Japan's Shingo Kunieda reacts to beating Argentina's Gustavo Fernandez in the men's singles final of the 2014 Australian Open. It was Kunieda's seventh title at the Australian Opne.

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“I’m very happy with this result. To win seven times is unbelievable for me, but I love this surface and these temperatures.”

Japan’s Shingo Kunieda, Germany’s Sabine Ellerbrock and the USA’s David Wagner clinched the men’s, women’s and quad singles titles on Saturday’s (25 January) final day of the Australian Open wheelchair tennis competition.

With the Australian Open being the only one of the three wheelchair tennis Grand Slam singles titles that Kunieda won in 2013, a loss in this year’s final would have ended his latest occupancy of the world No. 1 men’s singles ranking.

However, on the day there was never any danger of that happening as Kunieda wrapped up a 6-0, 6-1 dominating victory against Argentina’s rising star, Gustavo Fernandez.

“I’m very happy with this result. To win seven times is unbelievable for me, but I love this surface and these temperatures,” said a delighted Kunieda, who is now unbeaten in the seven Australian Open singles and doubles events he has played since 2007.

“I played a good serve and return game today. I always hope to win here and now I want to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. The sport is getting more popular in Japan and we will keep going,”

Kunieda raced into a 3-0 lead for the loss of just four points. Fernandez won more points in the fourth game than he had in the previous three and had a point for his first game of the final, but Kunieda ended the Argentinian’s hopes of getting on the board when he fired his first ace to make it 4-0.

The fifth game also went to deuce, but there were no game points for Fernandez this time as Kunieda moved to within a game of the first set. The defending champion ended the set with his second ace of the final after just 22 minutes, boasting a 96 per cent first serve in his six games.

Fernandez earned a rare game point as he opened the second set, but it was to no avail and Kunieda went on to hold his first service game of the set to love, subsequently breaking Fernandez’s serve to love to win his ninth game in succession. After 37 minutes of play Fernandez finally won his first and only game in his first Grand Slam final to make it 3-1, but that was to be his only major success .

“It was pretty exciting and pretty emotional to win my first Grand Slam match on Wednesday (against Stephane Houdet) and it was even more exciting to get to the final,” Fernandez said. “Now, I’m a little bit frustrated by the match, but in time maybe I will see what I did this week,”

Ellerbrock jumps back to world No. 1

Ellerbrock earned a return to the women’s world No. 1 ranking with the second Grand Slam victory of her career, defeating Japan’s No. 3 Yui Kamiji, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Ellerbrock, who came into the Australian Open as world No. 2, took a 2-0 lead at the start of the women’s singles final , but after a slow start Yui Kamiji edged the first deuce game of the match to start her own sequence of four games, which she completed with a service break to love.

Ellerbrock stemmed the flow to make it 4-3, but back-to-back double faults from the top seed saw Kamiji establish a two game cushion once again and she converted her first set point after exactly 30 minutes of play.

The top seed opened up a 5-2 advantage en route to taking the second set and again came out stronger for the deciding set, securing successive breaks to take a commanding 5-1 lead.

Kamiji broke to love to show that she wasn’t finished, but there was to be no big comeback and last year‘s runner-up completed the victory to add her first Australian Open title to her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2013.

“It’s an amazing feeling, I’m very emotional,” said Ellerbrock, “Last year was tough. I came back from 3-5 and saved eight match points and when I had 5-5 I played two silly games and that was hard. But that’s tennis. I didn’t have last year’s final in my head today and tried to concentrate on my match today.”

“The first set was difficult with the wind, because it was always changing, but after a while I started to feel pretty comfortable on court. I was a little too defensive in the first set and especially against the wind you have to be very active, so in the second set it was much better.”

While Ellerbrock finished runner-up to Dutchwoman Aniek van Koot in 2013, van Koot was unable to defend her title this year due to injury and Ellerbrock’s victory will see her return to the No. 1 ranking she first held last July.

Wagner seals third Australian Open title

The first Grand Slam quad singles final of 2014 was a rematch of the last Grand Slam quad singles final of 2013 at the US Open in New York.

On that occasion South Africa’s Lucas Sithole made history as the first African player to win a Grand Slam wheelchair tennis title, but this time, top-seeded Wagner took the 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory.

Wagner’s victory saw him add to his previous two Australian Open titles in 2011 and 2013 and he ends the Australian Open having won both the quad singles and quad doubles titles in the same year in Melbourne for the first time, having partnered Brit Andy Lapthorne to win the doubles.

Doubles competition

France’s Stephane Houdet and Kunieda won their fifth Grand Slam men’s doubles title together on Friday’s (24 January) penultimate day of the Australian Open, while there was a first Grand Slam title for Kamiji and Great Britain’s Jordanne Whiley in the women’s doubles.