There could be no better career for world No.1 Yui Kamiji of Japan than to play wheelchair tennis, which provides her with an opportunity to travel and experience the world.
“I like,” said Kamiji, when asked if she enjoys the jet-setting lifestyle. “I like to see the world, to eat other foods. I like to see culture and I like to learn. I like Australia if it’s not too hot.
“I don’t have any ‘don’t like’ countries because I like all the culture and spirit of places. Korea and France are my favorites. In France, I like the people, the people are very nice, and when I go sightseeing I can see very old history. And Korea, I like Korean musicians.”
This week, however, Kamiji hasn’t had time for much sightseeing in Melbourne as she’s attempting to win her sixth Grand Slam singles title. She’s already won the Australian Open last year, Roland Garros in 2014 and 2017, and the U.S. Open in 2014 and 2017.
After two matches played, Kamiji will have the opportunity to defend her Australian Open title. On Thursday, she defeated Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany 6-3 6-2 in the semifinals.
The only title missing for Kamiji to complete her Grand Slam collection is Wimbledon, which has only been hosting a wheelchair singles event since 2016.
Kamiji’s stellar 2017 season earned her another career honour as the ITF Women’s Wheelchair World Champion. And she was recently nominated for the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award in recognition of last year’s achievements.
In the final, Kamiji faces second-seeded Diede de Groot of Netherlands. De Groot, who posted a 6-2 6-3 win over fellow Dutchwoman Aniek van Koot in the semis, is into her third consecutive Grand Slam final.
De Groot, who has never been the Australian Open champion, having made her Melbourne debut last year, won Wimbledon and was a finalist to Kamiji at the US Open.
“I don’t think I need to defend,” Kamiji said. “I want to win. But I want to play good. I don’t need to have that pressure.”
Nevertheless, Kamiji is well aware of her strategy for playing de Groot in the final.
“I played her in the Singles Masters the end of last year and I lost, but I was good, but she was better,” Kamiji said. “She doesn’t like wind and doesn’t like to make many balls. I will also try to hit harder.”
Kamiji arrived at the Australian Open with the perfect preparation, winning the first two tournaments of the year, which finds her heading into the final with a nine-match winning streak.
“I came to Australia first week of January and I had two good weeks,” she said. “I played two tournaments, the Sydney International and the Melbourne Open, and I won both of them in singles.
“Here it’s a little bit different with the surface and the temperature. I still need to fix things. I think I need to fix my chair moving. It’s not enough like when I am good.”
In men’s wheelchair action on Thursday, Shingo Kunieda of Japan outlasted Stefan Olsson of Sweden 7-6(6) 6-2, while Stephane Houdet of France beat countryman Nicolas Peifer 6-2 7-5.
In the quad singles round-robin matches, Australian wildcard recipient Heath Davidson defeated second-seeded Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain 6-2 6-1, and top-seeded David Wagner of USA defeated defending champion Dylan Alcott of Australia 6-4 6-7(4) 6-4.
With Wagner unbeaten in his first two matches his place in Saturday’s final is as good as decided, while Alcott and Davidson will meet in a must-win contest for both players on Friday.
Later in the day Alcott and Davidson paired up to beat three-time Australian Open champions Lapthorne and Wagner in the first Grand Slam wheelchair final of the year as the quad doubles title was decided. In an enthralling contest Alcott and Davidson snatched the victory 6-0 6-7(5) (10-6) after a match tiebreak.
The men’s doubles final will have a familiar line-up as top seeds Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid of Great Britain take on second seeds Houdet and Peifer.
Hewett and Reid beat Gustavo Fernandez and Kunieda 6-1 4-6 (10-6) after another match tiebreak in their semi-final. Houdet and Peifer’s semifinal proved more straightforward as they defeated Sweden’s Stefan Olsson and men’s wild card recipient Adam Kellerman of Australia 6-2 6-2.
There were no surprises in the women’s doubles semifinals, either, as top seeds and last year’s Roland Garros champions Marjolein Buis and Kamiji beat South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane and Britain’s Lucy Shuker 6-1 6-3. De Groot and van Koot won the other semifinal against Ellerbrock and her countrywoman Katharina Kruger 6-2 6-4.