De Groot, Kunieda add to their major haul

Dutch No.1 seed rises to the occasion on Court Philippe-Chatrier on a significant day for wheelchair tennis

Diede de Groot, tennis-fauteuil, simple dames, Roland-Garros 2022©Cédric Lecocq / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Two of the finest athletes in tennis continue to collect the major prizes and keep their events in the spotlight.

In the first ever wheelchair final on Court Philippe Chatrier, world No.1 Diede de Groot dazzled with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over perennial rival Yui Kamiji for her seventh successive Grand Slam women's wheelchair singles trophy.

Shingo Kunieda was pushed to the limit for his 27th singles major, edging doubles partner Gustavo Fernandez 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 in the near three-hour men’s wheelchair singles final.

“I have to say I think we are very lucky at this moment that all of the Grand Slams are really picking up wheelchair tennis,” said 25-year-old de Groot.

“Where it's now a really big thing and really special, I hope that it just becomes normal. Like, ‘Oh, yeah, it's first the wheelchair tennis, then it's Rafael Nadal.

“Maybe it never will, but I think the way we are moving at the moment, I think it's a really nice time to be a wheelchair tennis player."

The Dutchwoman was dominant in 2021, taking an astonishing Calendar Golden Slam, but there is no sign of letting up from the world No.1.

“I think what motivates me in finding a new way is that I know that my rivals are doing the same thing for me,” said de Groot after her third Roland-Garros title triumph.

“I know that they are trying to keep improving themselves to basically chase me or beat me, and I have to do the same in order to stay on top. 

“I can't sit still, because that's when they pass me. Yeah, I need to keep working.”

Just like the all-time greats, de Groot has compiled her own mesmerising winning streak, posting her 41st straight tour-level victory on Saturday. The world No.1 hasn’t lost a match since falling to Kamiji at the Melbourne Open in January 2021.

“I think what makes me a good player is that I'm very versatile. There is a lot of things about my game that are good. I don't just have a really good forehand or I'm not just really fast, I think I try to put it all together into one player that I am today,” explained the 25-year-old.

“Obviously just trying to keep improving on that. Then just keep going.”

Shingo Kunieda / Roland-Garros 2022©Clément Mahoudeau / FFT

Second on the all-time list for women’s wheelchair singles Grand Slams with a standout 14, de Groot isn’t preoccupied by compatriot Esther Vergeer's record of 21.

“Definitely not. It actually frightens me a little bit. I don't think I should be chasing her records. I think that will only make you very nervous,” she added.

“What if my career stops and I only have 20 and she's got 21? Then it's like I'm a failure.

“I'm definitely not chasing any records of her. She was one of the best players I think that ever existed, and I'm just me.”

Japanese veteran Kunieda led by a set and 5-3, before Fernandez fought back earlier on Court 14. The 38-year-old had to dig deep to fend off the Argentine to extend his record haul of singles majors to 27.

Kunieda thought his chance to lift an eighth Roland-Garros had passed.

Gustavo is king of clay, and Alfie (Hewett) is also very good on clay. Many times I couldn't win anymore here, I thought,” admitted Kunieda, who had won his most recent Roland-Garros title in 2018. 

“But this tournament was really good conditions. I had big confidence. Three (majors) in a row, I recognise that I’m still improving now.”

Gustavo Fernandez, Shingo Kunieda, finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Clément Mahoudeau / FFT