Wheelchair wrap: Japan at the double in singles finals

  • Alex Sharp

Yui Kamiji and Shingo Kunieda crowned a historic Japanese double in the wheelchair singles finals on Sunday.
 
Kamiji defeated Aniek Van Koot in straight sets, two days after lifting the doubles trophy alongside Great Britain’s Jordanne Whiley.
 
World No.1 Kunieda clinched his 10th Australian Open trophy, equalling the great Esther Vergeer’s record of 44 Grand Slam titles across singles and doubles.
 
“Esther is the best player in wheelchair tennis, so it is a big honour, to equal the Grand Slam titles,” said top seed Kunieda.
 
“This is a big victory because I couldn't win last year Grand Slam. Now my age is 35. The rivals are very young.
 
“Sometimes I was feeling I don't have any more chance win Grand Slam. Today I could win, so I’m very happy.”

Kunieda will head to Tokyo 2020 as a three-time Paralymic gold medallist, hoping for another significant triumph on home soil.
 
“This is a big year for Japanese people as well as me, this is the best start for me,” revealed the Japanese talisman.
 
“I changed a lot in the winter season. Yeah, I change racquet. I change my forehand, backhand, swing, how to swing.
 
“From two weeks ago I came Australia. I play good, really good, much better than last two years. I had the confidence to win this time.”

The 35-year-old battled back from 0-3 in the first and 0-2 in the second set to complete a 6-4 6-4 triumph to deny world No.7 Gordon Reid a second Australian Open title.
 
“Yes, a lot of pressure on Grand Slam final for me. I didn't have a chance to win any more Grand Slam sometimes I think. I had a lot of pressure before the match,” admitted the world No.1, having flung his racquet into the air at Championship point.

“But, yes, I could play well. Gordon, as well, from first five games he was almost perfect. Yes, I was feeling this time is no chance again.

“I just hit strongly. I wanted to play like practice in winter, so that's why I could win.”

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Gordon Reid (left) and Shingo Kunieda

In their 50th career meeting, Kamiji put in a commanding 6-2 6-2 display against van Koot to regain the Australian Open title and complete the double at Melbourne Park.
 
Kamiji, now a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, hopes to build on her magnificent start in 2020 as a springboard for the Tokyo Paralympics on home soil.

“Yeah, my first win here (2017), my first title here was the next year after Rio. I was really relaxed, yeah, enjoying. Something like this year. It feels similar,” stated the 25-year-old.

“But my performance, my tennis is improving. I tried many things last year. I found little bit change than before. Now it little bit work. So I try many, many things in the match, yeah.
 
“I think it's very important because normally if someone won this title, then the player is very good whole year. I feel something like that. Yeah, it's like not my goal, but it's very important thing to win here.”

“Fun” is the key word for the Japanese star, who joined Instagram this week in Melbourne.

“Of course, I'm very happy that just after the last point I wanted to finish with my service game, so little bit disappointed. But, yeah, still happy,” added Kamiji with a smile, who won two titles down under prior to her trophy-laden stint at Melbourne Park.

“I don't think I was perfect in these days. But I just focus to play my performance. Yeah, I feel getting better since after first week of this month. I just play fun and not have pressure, just play my tennis, yeah. But it's not still perfect.”