As a new decade of Grand Slam wheelchair tennis dawns, a share of history and another significant career landmark beckons for Shingo Kunieda as Japan’s world No.1 eyes his tenth Australian Open title.
Ten years ago, Kunieda claimed his fourth men’s singles title at Melbourne Park to start the last decade.
As he prepares to face Nicolas Peifer of France in his opening match this year, he does so two years on from his latest singles crown at the Australian Open and with a combined total of 43 Grand Slam singles and doubles title in his remarkable career.
Victory in Melbourne in 2020 would see Kunieda equal the all-time record of Grand Slam wheelchair tennis titles currently held by Esther Vergeer, who won a combined 44 singles and doubles crowns at the majors during her career. Kunieda is one of three former Australian Open champions in this year’s field and the other two – reigning champion Gustavo Fernandez and 2016 champion Gordon Reid – meet each other in the first round this year.
Meanwhile, last week’s Melbourne Open champion and four-time NEC Masters champion Joachim Gerard opens his bid for a first Grand Slam singles title with a contest against Australian wild card Ben Weekes.
Two-time US Open champion Alfie Hewett meets Stephane Houdet as Hewett looks to make it back-to-back Grand Slam titles and both players seek a first victory at Melbourne Park.
DYLAN ALCOTT TARGETS FURTHER GLORY
Australia’s superstar reigning Paralympic quad singles champion Dylan Alcott would undoubtedly love to kickstart his season with victory at Melbourne Park as he seeks a sixth successive Australian Open singles title.
Alcott’s bid to complete the calendar year Grand Slam in 2019 came unstuck at the US Open as he endured his only singles match loss of the season in the title decider against Brit Andy Lapthorne.
With this year’s Australian Open taking place a week later than last year and last year’s ranking points having therefore already dropped off in this week’s rankings, Lapthorne begins his latest title charge at Melbourne Park as world No. 1 in quad singles for the very first time in his career.
The traditional format for the quad singles event at the Australian Open, whereby the four players face each other in round-robin competition before the top two advance to the final promises plenty of intrigue.
Lapthorne faces his doubles partner and world No. 3 David Wagner in his opening match which means that Alcott’s first rival will be fellow Aussie Heath Davidson.
History is already assured in the women’s events at the Australian Open as Zhenzhen Zhu becomes the first Chinese player to contest a wheelchair tennis Grand Slam.
Zhu’s first round opponent on Wednesday (29 January) is none other than world No.1 Diede de Groot, one of three players who got to within one victory of becoming the first wheelchair player to complete the calendar year Grand Slam in 2019.
For De Groot, it was Wimbledon where her dreams of completing the full set last season came undone as Aniek van Koot triumphed.
Both Dutchwomen are among four past Australian Open champions in this year’s women’s field with the third Dutch entry, world No. 5 Marjolein Buis, set as Van Koot’s quarterfinal opponent on Wednesday.
Sabine Ellerbrock, the 2014 champion and Yui Kamiji, the 2017 champion, are the other two former winners. Ellerbrock has already indicated that this is likely to be her last Australian Open before Germany’s world No. 7 opens her 2020 challenge against South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane, her doubles partner.
Meanwhile, Kamiji comes into her latest Australian Open unbeaten so far this year. The world No. 2 has beaten Brit Jordanne Whiley in the finals of both the Tweed Heads International, the first Super Series of the year, and the ITF 1 Melbourne Open. The doubles partners face each other for a place in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
The Australian Open starts on 29 January and finishes on 1 February.
This story is republished courtesy of International Paralympic Council)