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Wheelchair report: New champs in New York

Lucas Sithole won the wheelchair quad singles title by defeating No. 1 seed David Wagner.

By Nicholas J. Walz

The US Open Wheelchair Tennis Competition concluded with a pair of No. 1 vs. No. 2 finals in the men’s and women’s singles events, while the only American player, David Wagner, faced the biggest challenge to date for his quad singles crown in Lucas Sithole.

Wagner had won the previous two titles here in 2010-11 by outlasting Paralympic gold medalist Peter Norfolk on Final Sunday, and the Court 11 crowd gave a good cheer to the Oregonian in his attempt to become the first-ever three-time New York quad winner. On Saturday, Wagner and partner Nick Taylor celebrated their fifth US Open Wheelchair Competition quad doubles win. Taylor, along with U.S. Paralympic Tennis Coach and USTA Manager, Wheelchair Tennis Dan James would watch intently as Wagner sought to avenge a 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 Friday loss to the 26-year-old South African.

“He’s strong,” said Wagner of Sithole before the match. “He comes up with some very creative shots, really from anywhere on the court. Playing my best game, staying the course, it’s what I have to do to beat him.”

Wagner once more took the first set, 6-3, before Sithole began to show off his speed around the baseline. At 4-all and receiving, Sithole forced it to deuce with some terrific defensive gets at the corners with his backhand, pushing Wagner until the American either dumped into the net or left a short lob up for a hard forehand winner. Wagner then double faulted not once but twice, broken two games from victory. Sithole held serve and won the set, 6-4.

The two held serve against one another in the third until another pair of double faults from Wagner led to Sithole breaking and earning a 4-3 lead. The two traded holds of serve once more, and Sithole pushed it to triple match point before Wagner rallied to deuce on the strength of some well-placed volleys. Then a cross-court forehand by Sithole and a miss outside the sideline by Wagner sealed the 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory for the first African man to win a US Open singles event of any kind.

Sithole went a perfect 4-0 in four days of play, defeating Andrew Lapthorne, Taylor and Wagner twice.

“I was confident coming into the final,” said Sithole. “I’d like to thank the supporters and also David for sharing the experience with me on court. I really enjoy playing against him. He is a great player, one of the best in the quads.”

***

Four-time men’s singles champion Shingo Kunieda survived a scare in the semifinals on Friday, a tremendously tenuous 7-5, 7-5 win over France’s Michael Jeremiasz. The man from Japan wouldn’t survive two early break points converted in the first six games by another Frenchman, Stephane Houdet, in a 6-2, 6-4 loss, his first in Flushing Meadows since 2006 to Jeremiasz. Houdet, winner of the last two French Opens, claimed his first Grand Slam singles win outside his home country.

***

Aniek Van Koot loves New York: The Dutchwoman celebrated her first US Open Wheelchair Competition singles championship after lifting the crystal Tiffany & Co. trophy in doubles with partner Jiske Griffioen. Van Koot beat No. 1 seed Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany in a third-set tiebreak, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6.

For the 23-year-old, it’s the second Grand Slam singles title she has claimed, in addition to the 2013 Australian Open championship she won in January. Her name will join recently retired countrywoman Esther Vergeer as the only other woman to ever win here in Flushing.

 

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