Underdogs to contest Wimbledon finals

Olsson and Ellerbrock spring surprises in men's and women's wheelchair tennis semis. 15 Jul 2017
two wheelchair tennis players go for a shot

Stefan Olsson and Sabine Ellerbrock shocked the favourites to reach the Wimbledon finals.

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After the surprise defeats of the defending men's and women's singles champions and Paralympic gold medallists, Gordon Reid and Jiske Griffioen, on Thursday (13 July), spectators at the All England Club were treated to another famous reverse on Friday (14 July).

Sweden's Stefan Olsson brought to an end a record of 23 defeats in 23 matches stretching back 11 years against Japan´s former world No. 1 Shingo Kunieda by beating him 6-4, 6-2 to reach the men’s final.

Olsson gave up the sport for the best part of 12 months in 2013-14 but was inspired to return after watching a match between Novak Djokovic and John Isner while he was on his honeymoon.

“After the Paralympics in London in 2012 I didn’t feel the motivation anymore,” he said. “My wife and I were on our honeymoon in Rhodes, Greece, when we walked past this sports bar on our way to the beach and there was a match being shown on the television there between Isner and Djokovic. Isner was leading and doing these crazy serves and everything and after watching it I thought I really want to go back to tennis.”

Olsson’s game has made huge progress this year, particularly with improvement to his backhand, which culminated in these victories at Wimbledon, first against Reid and now versus Kunieda.

“The whole first set I was really nervous,” said Olsson. “When he got the break I said to myself, ‘just shake it off and play your own game’ and after that it worked. The main area I have improved is my topspin backhand.”

Olsson will meet Gustavo Fernandez, the new world No. 1, on Sunday (16 July) after the Argentine beat Great Britain’s Alfie Hewett in a tight match 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-3. Fernandez has won both their two previous encounters this year, but Olsson is unperturbed.

It was a bad day all round for Japanese representatives as women´s world No.1 Yui Kamiji lost 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(4) in her semi-final to Germany´s 41-year-old Sabine Ellerbrock.

It was a particularly gratifying victory for Ellerbrock who, only five months ago, had her right lower leg amputated in an effort to halt intolerable pain.

Ellerbrock needed to show resilience and plenty of court savvy to overcome Kamiji. She, too, had to overcome a much inferior head-to-head record of 2-12 against the Japanese.

“There were a couple of phases where she was dominating the game, I was playing too easy,” said Ellerbrock, “too many balls into the centre of court so then I had to play clever. I know that she doesn’t like my drop shots. My luck was that she was serving many balls on my backhand side so I could make my drops.”

The German was the last player to arrive at The Championships because, as a teacher, she had commitments at the end of term and was still working back in her country last Monday. Her pupils signed a T-shirt for her wishing her good luck to bring with her to Wimbledon and Ellerbrock has been taking it onto court with her each day as a lucky talisman.

“It’s been a tough time with a couple of surgeries,” she said. “In 2014 I nearly died, I fell into a coma and had to relearn everything. This year was also not easy because I had an amputation in February so I didn’t have much time to practice, but after the surgery I felt much better, less pain, which was a big relief for me. I could stay relaxed on court.”

Whatever the outcome of Saturday’s final against Diede De Groot, a 6-0, 6-2 winner against fellow Dutch woman Aniek van Koot, she will be happy, she says. Ellerbrock beat de Groot, who is exactly half her age, in straight sets in their last match at the Australian Open, but had lost their five previous meetings before that.

“I’m excited because it’s going to be my first Champions’ Dinner even if I lose,” she said.

Before the women's doubles could get underway, the event lost one of its former champions as the Netherlands´ Jiske Griffioen had to withdraw due to illness.

That meant that USA's Dana Mathewson came in to partner Aniek van Koot. But the new partnership could not overhaul the experience of three-time Wimbedon champions Kamji and Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain, who qualified for their fifth successive final after winning 6-4, 6-4.

They will play Dutch second seeds Marjolein Buis and de Groot, who beat Ellerbrock and Lucy Shuker 6-4, 6-1.

The men's doubles final will be a rematch of last year's title decider between French top seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer and reigning champions Hewett and Reid.

Houdet and Peifer made thair lastest Grand Slam final after beating Olsson and Maikel Scheffers 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. Meanwhile, Hewett and Reid reeled off five games in a row in the final set of their semi-final to defeat Fernandez and Kunieda 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

Full story can be read on the ITF's website.