Shingo Kunieda is the world’s best wheelchair tennis player and has won 22 Grand Slam tournament titles. Yet even he gets nervous.
“My confidence,” Kunieda said when asked how he lost the opening set 6-0 to Sweden’s Stefan Olsson. “I was getting relaxed from the second set on.”
That’s when the Japanese star rallied to beat the reigning Wimbledon champion 0-6, 6-1, 6-3 on Friday (7 September) in their US Open men’s singles quarter final match.
Because of the Extreme Heat Policy that halted play, followed by rain on Thursday, the wheelchair competition didn’t get fully get underway until Friday. Only one doubles match was being played when all play was halted.
The Kunieda-Olsson battle was the first wheelchair match to be played on the new Louis Armstrong Court, which completed a five-year construction phase at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Kunieda was impressed with the 14,000-seat stadium.
“I felt it was very comfortable,” he said, pointing out the signage around the facility to keep the spectators informed. Other players have complained about the noise; Kunieda had no such problem, even though planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport roared directly overhead because of the wind direction.
Finding the angles, and with his confidence restored, Kunieda dominated the rallies to win easily. Then he faced another hurdle: the media.
Two video cameramen interviewed the Japanese star on-court. Then he faced another seven Japanese journalists in a hallway. Smiling and laughing, Kunieda took care of those obligations before doing an interview in English.
Most of the competitors arrived in New York after participating in the US Open USTA Wheelchair Championships in St. Louis, the sixth and last Super Series tournament on the 2018 UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour. Asked how many Japanese media were in St. Louis, Kunieda smiled and said, “None. The US Open is a Grand Slam.”
Kunieda and Stephane Houdet of France are the only two players to have won a US Open men’s wheelchair singles title since 2007. Kunieda is also attempting to win his third Grand Slam title of the year. He was runner-up to world No. 2 Alfie Hewett of Great Britain in St. Louis.
Men’s and women’s semi-final line-ups complete
Both Kunieda and Hewett feature in Saturday's (8 September) men’s semis in New York after Hewett fought back from 5-2 down in the opening set and 4-2 down in the second set of his quarter final against Joachim Gerard to beat the Belgian 7-5, 6-4. Hewett next plays Gustavo Fernandez, who denied Gordon Reid the chance to set up a second successive all-British semi-final, defeating the world No.5 6-1, 6-4.
However, Houdet’s title defence is over already after the world No. 4 lost out to his doubles partner and fellow Frenchman Nicolas Peifer 6-2, 6-3, leaving Peifer as the semi-final opponent between Kunieda and a third Grand Slam singles final of the year.
The men’s doubles final will be a repeat of the 2017 final between Hewett and Reid, the defending champions, and Houdet and Peifer.
Second seeds Hewett and Reid completed their first set against Fernandez and Kunieda just before Thursday’s bad weather brought an end to proceedings. Fernandez and Kunieda fought back when the semi-final resumed on Friday, but the match tiebreak went to Hewett and Reid for a 7-5, 4-6 (10-6) victory.
Houdet and Peifer also repeated their 2017 semifinal win over Gerard and Olsson, earning victory 6-1, 7-6(5).
There were straight sets wins all the way in the women’s singles quarterfinals. World No.1 Diede de Groot ensured there would be no repeat of her semi-final loss to Aniek van Koot in St. Louis. De Groot won their all-Dutch contest 6-1, 6-2, the same score by which semi-final opponent Sabine Ellerbrock beat Dana Mathewson.
Yui Kamiji opened her title defence in excellent form, the world No. 2 dominating against Marjolein Buis to win 6-0, 6-0. World No. 6 Kgothatso Montjane reached her first US Open semifinal after beating Lucy Shuker 6-4, 6-4.
A repeat of the Wimbledon women’s doubles final brought a peerless performance from De Groot and Kamiji, who beat Ellerbrock and Shuker 6-0, 6-0 as Kamiji ended the day without the loss of a single game.
Second seeds Buis and van Koot were very nearly as dominant after a 6-1, 6-1 semi-final win over Mathewson and Montjane.
With a whole day of play pretty much lost to Thursday’s weather conditions – aside from the one set of completed men’s doubles - the quad singles round-robin got back on track on Friday as all four players played two matches apiece.
Four-time Australian Open champion and 2015 US Open champion Dylan Alcott is in pole position going into Saturday’s last round-robin matches after beating both world No.1 and defending champion David Wagner 6-3, 7-5 and Bryan Barten 6-3, 6-1.
The day started with a replay of last year’s quad singles final as Wagner defeated world No. 3 Andy Lapthorne 6-1, 6-4, but Lapthorne ended his day on a winning note after beating Barten 6-1, 6-4.