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.

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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.”

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.”