Wheelchair wrap: Gerard, de Groot claim titles

  • Dan Imhoff

Joachim Gerard is a Grand Slam wheelchair singles champion for the first time after steadying his nerves and fending off a resurgent Alfie Hewett to claim an Australian Open title on Wednesday.

In his third attempt, the 32-year-old became the first Belgian to claim a Grand Slam wheelchair singles final as he secured a 6-0 4-6 6-4 victory.

Earlier, top seed Diede de Groot landed her third Australian Open women’s wheelchair singles trophy, following a dramatic two-hour 20-minute triumph over defending champion Yui Kamiji.

F_AHEWETT_Day 7_14022021_02
Alfie Hewett made a late rally in the men's final

Gerard let out a huge yell of “allez” after he powered through the opening set 6-0 and quickly raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set before the pressure of the occasion began to sink in.

Hewett, a five-time major champion, was searching for his first Australian Open title and after holding for 1-4, grasped momentum as he reeled off six straight games to steal the set.

Gerard was not perturbed. He broke for 3-2 and brought up four championship points on the Brit’s serve at 5-3.

The pressure was beginning to mount again as Hewett saved all three and two more on the Belgian’s serve before the match was finally secured at the two-hour 13-minute mark.

“My serve was unbelievable at the end of the match. So happy. So happy to win that tournament because it's my first Grand Slam,” Gerard said. “When I lost the second set I wasn't focused on the 4-love, I was focused on how I could win that match.

“I showed that I could manage to do it.  After I lost the game, to come back to 5-4 for me in the third, I said, ‘OK, stop to think, just play’.”

Despite coming up short, Hewett was proud of the fight he showed and the comeback, which almost swung in his favour.

“At 6-0 4-0 I think I was on a flight back home to be honest,” Hewett said. “It was an unbelievable start from Joachim. Big congratulations, I know how much this means.

“Last time we were in a Grand Slam final it was the other way round so I’m pretty sure you had some revenge to take today, as much as it’s tough to take for me.”

f_170221_degroot_final_day10_51.jpg
Diede de Groot won her third Australian Open title

In the women’s wheelchair singles final, de Groot prevailed 6-3 6-7(4) [10-4] for her ninth major trophy and her third victory over the Japanese No.2 seed from as many Australian Open finals.

After leading a set and a break, the more aggressive de Groot’s lead was sliced as Kamiji found her range to reel off three straight games for 4-3.

The pair headed to a tie-break where Kamiji levelled the match with an ace after 87 minutes.

De Groot landed the critical break for 5-4 with a big forehand winner, but was unable to serve it out.

If the pressure of dethroning Kamiji was beginning to show, it was about to lift a notch in the match tie-break.

The Dutchwoman screamed in elation and both women came to net after they thought de Groot had secured the tie-break 7-4.

It was a premature celebration.

Neither realised it was a match tie-break and it took all the top seed’s composure to regroup and close it out three points later.

“It was really hard. I don't think anyone out there, not my opponent, not the people watching, nobody at home, not myself, knew that it was a 10-point tie-break,” de Groot said. 

“I really had to refocus and go back and think to myself ‘I can do it to 7-4, I can do it to 10. I just have to be tough, I guess’. I managed to do it.”

It was the 34th battle between the pair, which de Groot now led 19-15, including 7-2 at the majors.

Still Kamiji was all praise despite coming up short in her title defence.

“Congratulations to Diede. I think we were both a little bit confused those last few points,” she laughed. “But you played very well … but I’m still very happy with my performance today.”