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Wheelchair wrap: Japanese legend stunned

  • Ravi Ubha

With 10 Australian Open titles and 24 Grand Slam successes to his name, Shingo Kunieda doesn’t lose often. 

But it happened Monday at Melbourne Park as the Japanese legend exited in wheelchair singles to Alfie Hewitt 6-3 6-4 in the semifinals. 

Women’s top seed Diede de Groot and quad wheelchair favourite Dylan Alcott managed to avoid the upset bug.

Kunieda led Hewett 12-8 in their rivalry and won four in a row but last year’s meeting in the US Open final suggested an upset might have been on the cards, when the Japanese needed a third-set tiebreak to overcome his younger British rival. 

Hewett, 23, struck a fine forehand to seal his spot in the final — one of 31 winners — before letting out a huge roar. And this after the 36-year-old Kunieda grabbed a 3-0 lead in the opening set. 

“I don't really know too much about the match itself, like I was so in the zone at the time that all I was doing was trying to be aggressive and have a high intensity in the match and try and take it to him,” said Hewett. 

“I think the last couple of matches I've played have been a little bit passive, which isn't really like me, so I tried to just go out there and dominate and put my game on to him and thankfully today it worked.”

Joachim Gerard prevented an all-British final by outlasting Gordon Reid 4-6 7-5 6-3 in a battle of unseeded players in the other semifinal.

The defeat could linger for a while for Reid, since he led by a set and 3-0. Gerard hit 63 winners over the course of the two-hour 50-minute contest. 

Hewett and Gerard tangle in a second straight Grand Slam final after the former prevailed over the Belgian at the French Open in October.

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Shingo Kunieda has won 24 Grand Slam titles

Alcott through in straight sets

Playing at home in Melbourne, Alcott eased past Niels Vink of the Netherlands 6-4 6-3 at Margaret Court Arena. 

The 30-year-old broke to end the first set and pulled off what might have been the shot of the match to break for 5-3 in the second, sending an angled backhand past his foe. You could understand why he followed with a Lleyton Hewitt-esque “Come on!”

The duo exchanged a warm handshake and fist bump at the net but it is the six-time defending champion who can look forward to the final against another unseeded Dutchman, Sam Schroder.

“It would be awesome, but I'm just thinking about just going out there and doing the best that I can,” said Alcott of a possible seventh title. 

"I used to worry about titles and recognition and slams and all this, and that gets you into trouble when you get out there. 

“What you actually have to worry about is preparing the best you can but also having fun and playing the best you can, and if you win, then ripper. But that's all I can control is what I do, and what I'm going to control is my attitude and my preparation but also getting out there and having fun and enjoying what I'm doing.

“Seven does have a nice ring to it, but we'll cross that bridge when it comes to it.”

Schroder topped second-seed Andy Lapthorne 6-2 6-3 and has now won four straight against the Brit, dropping more than four games in a set only  once during that time. 

Alcott has won five of six against Schroder but the 21-year-old triumphed in the US Open final in his Grand Slam debut — as a wildcard. 

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Diede de Groot in action against Momoko Ohtani

Top two to battle in women's final

De Groot downed Japan’s Momoko Ohtani 6-2 6-4 to set up a mouthwatering final against second-seed Yui Kamiji. Kamiji needed three sets to defeat South Africa’s Montjane Kgothatso 6-1 5-7 6-0. 

The Dutchwoman took a 4-0 lead, helped by claiming a five-deuce game. Having surrendered a 4-2 lead in the second, the 24-year-old won the last two games, unloading with a forehand down the line to advance. 

Kamiji ended a seven-match losing streak against de Groot earlier this month at the Melbourne Open, perhaps a significant victory ahead of the pair’s 34th meeting. But in their last five Grand Slam finals, de Groot came out on top.