Lucy Shuker, Alfie Hewett and Andy Lapthorne ensured that there will be British representation across the board in Tuesday’s men’s, women’s and quad wheelchair tennis singles semi-finals at the Australian Open, with Shuker leading the way at Melbourne Park on Sunday after beating world No.6 Zhenzhen Zhu 6-2 6-2 to reach her third Australian Open semi-final since 2013.
If I can continue that sort of level going to my next matches I can predict I’ll do well, but today can be completely different to tomorrow, so I need to learn from the mistakes today and take encouragement from a lot of the things I did well today and go again Alfie Hewett
The British No.1 and world No.9 will contest the last four at a major for the fourth time in her career after securing just her second win over the Chinese player in six career meetings, sealing a famous victory in an hour and 19 minutes.
A thrilled Shuker, who secured the early break against Zhu to go 3-1 up in both sets before delivering forehand winners to close out both sets of tennis, said:
“I’m super happy. I just felt like I executed the game plan really well. I feel like I’ve been striking the ball really well out here and I think, fitness-wise, it shows the hard work I did through lockdown and ever since. I’m always the underdog. I’m a T4 para (paraplegic) and it’s incredibly hard to compete with the girls whose disability is more profound than mine. To get a win at the Grand Slams and get myself into the semis is just fantastic.”
Shuker, who will now face world No.1 Diede de Groot of the Netherlands, added:
“It’s the same as any match, at the end of the day, whoever your opponent is. You have to go in with your game plan and all you can do is the best that you can do on the day. If that’s good enough and you deserve the win, then amazing. If you don’t, then it doesn’t define you as a tennis player or as a person.”
Hewett, runner-up in the men’s singles at the 2021 Australian Open before going on to retain his French Open title last year, secured his second victory in a week over Argentinian world No.3 Gustavo Fernandez.
The world No.2, who defeated Fernandez 3-6 6-1 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Melbourne Open before going on to claim the fifth title of his career at Super Series level, raced into a 6-1 5-2 lead against world No.3 Fernandez in their latest meeting. However, the two-time Australian Open champion fought back before Hewett sealed a 6-1 7-6(2) victory also after an hour and 19 minutes.
“All the matches we play are a great prep, that’s why we play them. I feeling good coming here, feeling strong, feeling confident and that first set and a half just proved that. If I can continue that sort of level going to my next matches I can predict I’ll do well, but today can be completely different to tomorrow, so I need to learn from the mistakes today and take encouragement from a lot of the things I did well today and go again.”
Hopes of an all-British men’s semi-final came to an end when 2016 Australian Open champion Gordon Reid slipped to a 6-4 6-1 loss to Stephane Houdet of France. Unable to play at his best, Reid will return to court on Monday for when he and Hewett start the defence of their doubles title.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but I’ve spent an hour on court in the last week and today I couldn’t hit any of my spots and was so off. I’ll recover as well as I can and come back tomorrow and hopefully be able to perform a little bit better. I had so many chances in that first set to put away easy balls and there were a lot of double faults towards the end of the set.”
Lapthorne, a three-time Australian Open quad singles finalist, was also critical of parts of his performance in his opening match, despite beating South African wild card Donald Ramphadi. Lapthorne played the important points well to take the opening set, having trailed 5-3, before growing in confidence as the second set progressed.
Five-time Australian Open quad doubles champion Lapthorne, who fired a top-spin forehand winner past Ramphadi on his second match point, said:
“It was a bit of experience on my part and knowing when to ask the questions in his first Grand Slam match. I knew he was going to come out swinging, because there are two options. You’re either going to get really nervous and choke and not swing or you’re going to come out and be really excited and hit the ball hard.
“He started well and took advantage of me being quite passive and it was just me asking the questions and knowing that he probably wouldn’t have the answers at this stage of his career. Once you allow me to win a set and allow me to relax a bit you’re in trouble and the forehand started to come back in that second set.”
While there is now a day’s gap before the singles semi-finals on Tuesday, all four Brits will be on court for Monday’s men’s, women’s and quad doubles semi-finals.
Hewett and Reid will start their quest for a third successive Australian Open title when the 13-time Grand Slam-winning partnership face Tom Egberink of the Netherlands and Ben Weekes of Australia.
Shuker and Japan’s Yui Kamiji are second seeds for the women’s doubles and face Dutchwoman Jiske Griffioen and Zhu. Meanwhile, Lapthorne and American David Wagner, who completed a career Grand Slam together in 2021 after winning the French Open and Wimbledon quad doubles titles, play Ramphadi and Japan’s Koji Sugeno.