Tennis

Japanese stars sweep men's and women's wheelchair crowns

Kyodo, AP

Japanese wheelchair tennis players swept the men’s and women’s singles titles at the Australian Open on Sunday.

Shingo Kunieda earned his 10th singles title in Melbourne after brushing off Britain’s Gordon Reid 6-4, 6-4 in the men’s final, while Yui Kamiji claimed her second Australian Open women’s singles title by defeating Aniek van Koot of the Netherlands, also in straight sets.

Kunieda, the current world No. 1, faced a difficult challenge from the seventh-ranked Reid, who opened both sets by taking a lead.

After overcoming Reid’s 3-0 start to claim the first set, Kunieda dropped an early serve in the second and had to battle to even it at 3-3, assisted by several unforced errors from his opponent. He then won three of the next four games to seal the match in 1 hour, 43 minutes.

“I’m really relieved because I wasn’t able to win a Grand Slam in a while,” said Kunieda, the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic singles champion.

Earlier in the day, world No. 2 Kamiji beat No. 3 Van Koot 6-2, 6-2 in the women’s final, adding this year’s singles title to the one she won in 2017. She fired one ace and 23 winners en route to sealing the win in 1 hour, 9 minutes.

“I’m really happy that I won the first Grand Slam of the season. I played believing that I could take control if I (played the ball) to my opponent’s backhand, and I was able to continue that until the end,” Kamiji said.

The 25-year-old Kamiji also won the women’s doubles title in Melbourne with her British partner Jordanne Whiley. The duo defeated Dutch first seeds Diede de Groot and Van Koot 6-2, 6-4 in the final on Friday.

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury won the men’s doubles title on Sunday, beating young Australian wild-card entries Max Purcell and Luke Saville 6-4, 6-2 in 70 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.

It’s Ram’s second Grand Slam title — he combined with Barbora Krejcikova to win the Australian Open mixed doubles last year.

Ram said he made the call to pull out of the Australian Open mixed doubles when he was ill late last year.

“I didn’t have the offseason I would have liked. So I came to Australia very unprepared, to the ATP Cup (in Perth) and didn’t feel great,” he said. “Made a call there that it wasn’t going to be good for my health or either of my partners, so I just decided that playing the extra event (mixed) wasn’t going to be good. Maybe I might have to stick with that decision now for the rest of my career.”

Ram, 35, is the first American man to win the Australian Open doubles title since the Bryan brothers in 2013.

This was the Grand Slam final debut for the 33-year-old Salisbury, the first British player to win the title since Jamie Murray in 2016 with Brazil’s Bruno Soares.

Krejcikova, Ram’s former mixed doubles partner, defended the title on Saturday night, teaming with Nikola Mektic to beat Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands 5-7, 6-4 (10-1).

The last woman to win consecutive Australian Open mixed doubles titles was Krejcikova’s former mentor and fellow Czech, the late Jana Novotna, in 1988-89.

“It’s still very hard for me to talk about it because she was really close to me,” Krajcikova said. “She was living very close to me, like 15 minutes from me. I really spent a lot of time with her. I learned so many things.

“She was kind of like my mentor and my hero. Every time I play, I’m playing singles, doubles, mixed, I always try to think what she would think, like what she would help me or advise me — I just love to think of her any time I can.”

Novotna, a former Wimbledon champion, was 49 when she died in 2017 after battling cancer.

“When we started together, she was doing everything with me. She was even hitting and doing the fitness and stuff. She was really fit,” Krejcikova said. “Then when she got sick, she was more about being mentor and stuff. Spent so much time with her even afterwards when she found out that she was sick.

“It was such a deep experience for me to experience what was happening and what happened.”

This was the debut tournament for Mektic and Krajcikova, a daunting assignment in the final against an experienced duo with multiple Grand Slam titles.

Krajcikova contacted Mektic once she realized American Rajeev Ram wasn’t available this time.

“I had Nikola’s number in my phone. I just wrote him a text message. In five minutes I got the response back. He was just so happy to play. I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s go and try to win the title,'” she said.