Wheelchair tennis to break new ground at Roland Garros
Wheelchair tennis’s Grand Slam journey passes another landmark this week at Roland Garros as 32 wheelchair players line up to contest the titles at one of the sport’s four majors for the first time.
Since 2021, each of the men’s, women’s and quad division draws in Paris have been increased by four players, meaning that 12 men’s players, 12 women’s players and eight quad players will take to the iconic clay courts for five days of wheelchair tennis competition.
At the very least, a new champion is guaranteed in the quad singles, with Sam Schroder and Niels Vink leading the challengers hoping to succeed Dylan Alcott as quad singles champion in Paris.
Schroder ended Alcott’s reign as Australian Open quad singles champion in January in what was the Australian’s competitive farewell match and the 22-year-old Dutchman, who lost out to Alcott in the 2020 semi-finals and 2021 final in Paris, will be looking to make it back-to-back Grand Slam titles.
Since February, Schroder and Vink have both succeeded Alcott as world No. 1 in the quad singles world rankings, with Vink reaching the top spot without yet having won a Grand Slam singles title. This week could yet see the 19-year-old top seed break his duck at the majors.
World No. 3 Andy Lapthorne and world No. 4 David Wagner have also both finished as runners-up in singles to Alcott at Roland Garros in the last three years and both players set out this year among those aiming to prevent an all-Dutch final.
Wagner arrives in Paris on the back of claiming his latest UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour clay court title over the weekend at the Annecy International Open.
Oda to become youngest male wheelchair Grand Slam player
History will be made in the men’s singles draw as Tokito Oda – at 16 years and a little over three weeks – is set to become the youngest male wheelchair tennis player to make his Grand Slam debut.
However it’s Oda’s countryman Shingo Kunieda who remains the most successful men’s wheelchair tennis player in Paris, having won seven singles titles since claiming the very first men’s wheelchair title in a ranking event at Roland Garros in 2007.
Since 2014 Kunieda, Gustavo Fernandez and Alfie Hewett have shared the Roland Garros men’s singles title between them and world No. 3 Fernandez arrives in Paris in fine form on clay, having beaten both world No. 1 Hewett and world No.2 Kunieda to win the recent Barcelona Open and defeating both Oda and Nicolas Peifer to win last week’s Annecy International Open, where Fernandez dropped just two games (both to Oda) in three matches en route to the title.
Kunieda’s unprecedented Roland Garros success began 15 years ago in the first wheelchair event sanctioned for world ranking points in Paris, which meant that in 2007 wheelchair tennis was a part of all four Grand Slam tournaments for the first time.
De Groot aiming for third title as Kamiji eyes fourth title
The only player in the women’s wheelchair draw at Roland Garros in 2007 to be playing again this year is Lucy Shuker. Shuker won her one and only Roland Garros singles match to date on that occasion to reach the semi-finals, but with a 12-player draw this year there will be plenty of other players looking to make a winning start to progress to the last eight this time.
The only women’s player making their Grand Slam debut in Paris is French wild card Emmanuelle Morch, while Diede de Groot and Yui Kamiji will aim to maintain the record of Dutch or Japanese players winning every Roland’s women’s singles title since 2014, when Kamiji won the first of her four titles.
Jiske Griffioen, the 2015 champion, returns to bolster the Dutch challenge in 2022, but it is two-time champion and world No. 1 Diede de Groot who will be hoping to make it three titles in four years. The only blip in De Groot’s recent success at Roland Garros came in 2020, when Momoko Ohtani beat De Groot in the women’s singles semi-finals to set up the first and, so far, only all-Japanese women’s singles final in Grand Slam wheelchair tennis history.
Two years ago Ohtani beat Kgothatso Montjane in the quarter-finals in Paris and Ohtani’s preparations for her Roland Garros campaign this year also included beating Montjane at the end of last week in the Annecy International Open quarter-finals before finishing runner-up to Kamiji in another all-Japanese clay court final. That came on the back of Ohtani beating Griffioen in early May as Japan upset Netherlands in the women’s final at the BNP Paribas World Team Cup.