The 2014 US Open Wheelchair Competition began Thursday morning on the outer courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, leading off with a rematch of the 2013 quad singles final between defending champion Lucas Sithole of South Africa and world No. 1 David Wagner.
Unfortunately for Wagner – a two-time Open singles champion dethroned in three sets by Sithole last September – the outcome was strikingly comparable to that fateful 2013 final Sunday, as Sithole rallied to win in three sets, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.
The Southern Californian kept cool after dropping the first set to Sithole, 27, with a very strong second set in which he converted all three break-point opportunities offered by the South African and committed zero unforced errors. In the deciding stanza, Sithole himself broke three times and took advantage of Wagner’s second serve, which he struggled to earn points with.
The round-robin nature of the quad draw means that Wagner remains alive, but it put added pressure on the 40-year-old to win tomorrow against his fellow American and longtime doubles partner, Nick Taylor. Taylor, playing against world No. 3 Andy Lapthorne, fell in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. The loser of Friday morning’s match on Court 4 would be all but eliminated from title contention: in the four-player quad singles field, only the top two records advance to Sunday’s final.
Elsewhere, the top seeds in both the men’s and women’s singles draws – Japan’s Shingo Kunieda and Yui Kamiji – notched their first victories of the tournament.
Inside Louis Armstrong Stadium, Kunieda had little trouble with two-time US Open Wheelchair doubles champion Michael Jeremiasz, cracking a tournament-high 23 winners en route to a 6-1, 6-1 win. Kamiji, the youngest No. 1 seed in Wheelchair Competition history at age 20, handled 44-year-old Dutch veteran Sharon Walraven in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3. Defending women’s champion Aniek Van Koot, the No. 2 seed, also advanced to the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Kgothatso Montjane of South Africa.
One favorite that found difficulty was defending men’s singles champ Stephane Houdet. The 43-year-old Frenchman was down a break in the third set late against Belgium’s Joachim Gerard, yet the No. 2 seed found a way to rattle off four consecutive games to win the match, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5.
On Friday, men’s and women’s doubles competition begins. Kuneida and Houdet, always vying for the top singles ranking in the world, will team up yet again to try and win their first US Open title as a duo. The Kunieda-Houdet connection fell in the semifinals last year to Jeremiasz and Maikel Scheffers of The Netherlands.