Kamiji Defeats Griffioen to Claim Fourth Successive Title; Houdet Wins First Men’s Singles Crown
The 32nd International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in Iizuka (Japan Open 2016) was held in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, between May 17 and 22. It is one of the major tournaments of the top-ranked Super Series, which is second only to the Grand Slam. This year’s tournament doubled as a final trial for the Rio Paralympic Games in September. Each court saw matches that were even more heated than usual.
上地がリオ金へ前進! 世界女王に競り勝つKamiji Defeats the 2015 World Champion and Advances toward a Shot at the Gold in Rio!
It was indeed a match that boded well for the “next” stage.
Australian Open champion Jiske Griffioen
In the women’s singles final, Yui Kamiji came from behind for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over world No. 1 ranked Jiske Griffioen of the Netherlands, who had captured the Australian Open this year. Griffioen lead the match, winning the first set. She had spent the past year improving her serve, which has become more stable. With careful shots aiming close to the line, she gave Kamiji no opening to make a counterattack. Kamiji cool-headedly analyzed that there would be a chance for her if she could get the game into rallies. In the second set, she launched her offensive ahead of Griffioen with rallies that created spaces for her to slam in winning shots. In the third set, Kamiji lost three games in a row—from a 5-0 lead—read repeated double faults and return misses. But, in the end, she clinched the match with a solid win of her service game.
In the quarterfinals played on the 19th, Kamiji defeated No. 6 seed Marjolein Buis of the Netherlands in straight sets. Her confidence was boosted by this win over Buis who had defeated Thailand’s Sakhorn Khanthasit in the second round. Since defeating Kamiji in the last four at the Incheon 2014 Asian Para Games (South Korea) and going on to capture the title, Khanthasit had become Kamiji’s nemesis. Meanwhile, in the semifinals on the 20th, Kamiji clinched a smooth victory over world No. 2 Aniek van Koot of the Netherlands, overcoming her issue of often missing the shot after a service return. Kamiji steadily shifted into high gear in the tournament toward her final match with Griffioen.
This was the third match between Kamiji and Griffioen this year, and Kamiji has now won two out of three. Each match between them has been a fierce battle played into the final set, so their skills are comparably close. Partly as a way to forecast the outcome in Rio, attention will be focused on their matches at the World Team Cup (which opened on May 23), the French Open, and Wimbledon—where in addition to doubles , wheelchair tennis singles events will now also be played starting this year.
In women’s doubles, Kamiji paired with Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain to capture the title. Having taken both the singles and doubles crowns, she seems to have gained rock-hard confidence. She said, “Everyone is playing hard with Rio in mind this year. I think that I was able to play my own game despite such circumstances. Winning each game at a time leads to greater confidence.”
France’s Houdet Brushes Younger Players Aside
The men’s singles saw the absence of Shingo Kunieda, who sat this tournament out due to an operation on his right elbow in April. Younger players, who are heirs to today’s mainstream aggressive tennis style, were in the forefront this year. In fact, three of the four players who advanced to this tournament’s semifinals were in their 20s. It was world No.1 ranked Stephane Houdet who brilliantly brushed 27-year-old Joachim Gerard of Belgium off to the side to win the tournament. Gerard is known for his sharp serves and returns. Houdet coolly aimed his shots to different parts of the court, fully displaying his game skills. He dominated the first set after breaking back in game 4, turning the games into the rallying matches that he excels in. Placing pressure on his opponent with his persistence, he forced Gerard into making mistakes, clinching the title in straight sets. This was Houdet’s sixth time to advance into the final, and his first title. He also took the men’s doubles title with his partner Michael Jeremiasz, also of France.
Houdet said with a smile on his face, “I’m disappointed that Shingo isn’t here, but I’m very happy.” Meanwhile, runner-up Gerard said, praising the rock-solid match played by the winner, “You need to play a stable game to beat a rival, but I made mistakes. I think that’s the difference between the good players and best players.”
The only Japanese player to advance to the quarterfinals was Takashi Sanada . He won the first and second rounds in straight sets, playing against No. 2 seed Gordon Reid of Great Britain in the quarterfinals. Sanada played an offensive game against Reid, who is ranked world No. 4 and won this year’s Australian Open for the first time. However, Sanada struggled against Reid’s left-handed shots with their distinctive spin, losing 3-6, 2-6. He said constructively, “I would like to make adjustments going forward to enable myself to effectively slice the ball against players with shots that spin like Reid’s.”
Houdet captured the men’s singles title in the absence of Kunieda
Sanada, who advanced to the quarterfinals
Alcott Comes Out Ahead in the Close Contest of the Quads
There was a big lineup of players in the quads who were among the world’s top 10. Competitors in the quad class have impairments in three or more limbs. World No. 1 ranked Dylan Alcott of Australia came out the winner in the high-level matches that resulted, defeating former world champion David Wagner of the U.S. 6-3, 6-3 to clinch his second consecutive title. Alcott played in the Beijing and London Paralympic Games on Australia’s national wheelchair basketball team. He resumed tennis in 2014 for the first time in about nine years. His weapons on the court are the forceful serves from his long arms, which spread 1.95 meters from one arm to the other, and his skills in maneuvering the wheelchair—something that he cultivated through his years in basketball. He will be aiming to participate in his third Paralympic Games and for another medal following his Gold and Silver in basketball.
No. 2 seed pair Jamie Burdekin and Andy Lapthorne, both of Great Britain, crushed No. 1 seed Nicholas Taylor and David Wagner, both of the United States. Winners of Gold medals in three consecutive Paralympic Games, Taylor and Wagner were defeated by the British pair in straight sets.text by Miharu Araki
photo by X-1