Kunieda, Kamiji achieve wheelchair tennis double for Japan

 - Ian Chadband

Japanese duo Shingo Kunieda and Yui Kamiji confirmed their No.1 status with victories at Roland-Garros.

Shingo Kunieda reclaimed his position as the world’s No.1 wheelchair tennis player and reminded everyone why, like Rafael Nadal, he is veritable royalty on the Paris clay as he powered to a seventh Roland-Garros singles crown on Saturday.

To make it a red-letter day for Japan, top seed Yui Kamiji watched her compatriot’s victory on TV before following him on to Court 7 to successfully defend her women’s crown and annex her third title at Roland-Garros, coming from a set down to defeat her perennial Dutch rival, world No.1 Diede de Groot 2-6 6-0 6-2.

The 34-year-old maestro Kunieda lifted his 22nd Grand Slam singles title - and a men’s record 42nd in total - with a 7-6(5) 6-0 victory over his Argentinian doubles partner and former Roland-Garros winner Gustavo Fernandez.

The triumph came after an epic first set in which Fernandez provided remarkable resistance before he eventually succumbed in a tiebreak after 85 minutes. With his pal’s spirit broken, Kunieda then ‘bagelled’ him just another 22 minutes to land his first title here since 2015.

When it was suggested to him that he had once again underlined his position as the Nadal of wheelchair tennis at Roland-Garros and could be in line to go on and win 10 titles himself, Kunieda laughed: “Rafa has won more than me but if I keep playing, I will try!”

Having won the Australian Open already this year, the man from Tokyo who has reinvented himself since overcoming a series of injuries, undergoing elbow surgery and changing his backhand technique, is back to something like his peerless best as he now targets the prospect of completing a calendar Grand Slam.

“Now, I just go for Wimbledon, which is the last one that I haven’t won, so I really want it,” said Kunieda, whose win ensures that he will be back to world No.1 when next week’s rankings are published.

Roland-Garros 2018, Yui Kamiji, tennis fauteuil©Pauline Ballet / FFT

Things may have been very different if the marathon first set had gone the way of the Argentine, who fought with remarkable tenacity.

“I’m really happy right now because I saved the set point 10 times and I gave everything,” said the three-time Paralympic champion Kunieda.

“It was very, very tough, very high quality and I just stayed aggressive. Gustavo was disappointed when he dropped the first set and then I felt really comfortable and I had confidence from winning it. I like this crowd too, everyone is very emotional. So that it helped me too.”

In the locker room, the No.1 seed Kamiji watched Kunieda’s performance and swore that it helped her to her sixth Grand Slam crown, even if she had to overcome a slow start before a change of tactics saw her finally outclass De Groot.

“It gave me inspiration because he is Japanese and I always want him to win. So it pushed me very much,” said the 24-year-old.

“This win feels good. When I play against Diede it’s always very tough and every time it’s difficult to get the point against her. It’s always a fight between us. She was very good in the first set, her timing was on and I changed my tactics a little bit in the second set and needed to be more consistent.”

Nicolas Peifer, Stephane Houdet, Gustavo Fernandez, Shingo Kunieda, Roland Garros 2018, Double Messieurs Tennis Fauteuil, Premier Tour©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

France’s first triumph of the weekend saw Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer, the top seeds, lift the men’s doubles title by beating their compatriot Frederic Cattaneo and Swede Stefan Olsson 7-6(5) 6-1.

In the women's doubles final, De Groot and fellow Dutchwoman Aniek Van Koot took the title over Kamiji and Marjolein Buis, winning 6-1 6-3.