World No.1 Gordon Reid begins his Australian Open men’s singles title defence against Joachim Gerard of Belgium in a rematch of last year’s final when the first wheelchair tennis Grand Slam of 2017 gets underway at Melbourne Park on Wednesday.
With four Brits on the Tennis Foundation’s Wheelchair Tennis World Class Programme lining up for the men’s, women’s and quad singles and doubles events this year in Melbourne, Alfie Hewett will make his Australian Open debut against world No.2 Stephane Houdet of France, while Lucy Shuker faces her doubles partner Marjolein Buis of the Netherlands.
The four-way quad singles round-robin begins with world No.3 Andy Lapthorne playing his doubles partner, the USA’s world No.2 David Wagner.
Reid has reached the semi-finals and final, respectively, in his first two men’s singles events of the year at the Sydney Open Super Series and the ITF 2 Melbourne Open. Most recently he finished runner-up to Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina on Saturday at the Melbourne Open. Reid bowed out against British No. 2 Hewett in the semi-finals in Sydney but then beat Hewett in the semi -finals last week.
“I had a disappointing start to this Australian trip, but managed to up my level in Melbourne in difficult conditions. So I arrive at Melbourne Park in a good place ready to defend my title ,” said Reid, who wo his first Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne 12 months ago before going on to win the inaugural men’s singles title at Wimbledon.
“It is obviously a different situation than I’ve ever been in before, coming to a Grand Slam as defending champion. But seeing the courts here brings back great memories and gets me excited to start competing here again.”
After reaching his first Super Series singles final in Sydney, having beaten Reid for the very first time, Hewett is relishing his debut at Melbourne Park against Houdet.
“It’s been a pretty positive start to 2017 for me after beating Gordon to reach my first Super Series final in Sydney and then going to three sets with him at the Melbourne Open. So after doing that against the world No.1 I’m really excited to be at the Australian Open for the first time and I’m looking for another big performance against the world No.2 on Wednesday,” said Hewett.
World No.8 Shuker is set to begin her eighth Australian Open against Buis after reaching successive women’s singles quarter-finals so far this year in which she has had close results against world No. 6 Diede de Groot and world No.2 Yui Kamiji.
“I feel like I’ve been playing some pretty good tennis out here in Australia in the first two tournaments of the year. I pushed Diede in Sydney, going to a final set tie-break, and had chances in the match against Yui in Melbourne, so I’m looking forward to my eighth Australian Open,” said Shuker.
“The last time I played here with Marjolein in doubles we made the final, so I’m looking forward to playing together again after facing each other on Wednesday.”
Lapthorne began 2017 by defeating Wagner in his very first match of the year in Sydney two weeks ago, before finishing runner-up in a four-way round robin featuring the same three players he will face this week. While Lapthorne will hope to repeat that result on Wednesday he then goes on to face Australians Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson. The top two players at the end of the round-robin will meet again in the final.
Former US Open quad singles champion Lapthorne also pairs up with Wagner in a bid to win their third Australian Open quad singles title together. He is also a former two-time quad doubles champion in Melbourne with fellow Brit Peter Norfolk.
“I’m excited to be going after title number five in doubles, which would be very special, and looking to try and go one better than my past attempts in singles here,” said Lapthorne.
There is the possibility of two Brits being in the men’s doubles final, with Reid and Gerard set to play the Australian-Dutch combination of Ben Weekes and Maikel Scheffers in their semi-final. Hewett and Fernandez will play French top seeds Houdet and Nicolas Peifer in the other semi-final.
Shuker and Buis will take on Dutch top seeds Jiske Griffioen and Aniek van Koot in their quest to reach a second Australian Open women’s doubles final after finishing runners-up to the same partnership in 2013.
Photo courtesy of the Tennis Foundation