Wheelchair tennis tour - five reasons to be excited
By Gemma-Louise Stevenson
Last Updated: 20/01/19 4:35pm
The first week of the Australian Open has warmed everyone up - now it's time for players in the wheelchair draw to excite everyone at the first Slam of their 2019 season.
Among them are four Brits, a whole host of previous Grand Slam and Paralympic champions, and one of the greatest showmen on the tour.
And there is plenty more to look forward to beyond the Australian Summer Series, so here are five reasons to be excited about what the new season on the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis tour has in store.
Britain's top wheelchair tennis talent has already tasted success this season as Gordon Reid will head to Melbourne Park with two 2019 men's doubles titles to his name already.
The first came partnering Sweden's Stefan Olsson at an exhibition match in Brisbane at the beginning of January.
And the second, this time with Gustavo Fernandez by his side, only a week later at the Bendigo Open, where Lucy Shuker and Andy Lapthorne also finished with runners-up honours in the women's and quad doubles competitions respectively.
Norwich's Alfie Hewett will take to the court for the first time this season at the Australian Open and the reigning US Open champion will no doubt be looking to notch up his first singles win in Melbourne Park when he gets his campaign underway.
Looking further ahead Jordanne Whiley, will be returning to the circuit for the first time since her memorable Wimbledon doubles victory in 2017.
The 10-time Grand Slam champion has been away from the tour for a while after having her son and, if her first tournament back where she was crowned national champion in Shrewsbury is anything to go by, it won't be long before she is rocketing back up those rankings.
It is a sport full of rivalries and among the biggest in the women's division at the minute is the one between the Netherlands' Diede de Groot and Japan's Yui Kamiji.
Both players are equally as skilled and tactical on a tennis court and for the past couple of seasons they have shared the spoils between them when it comes to Grand Slam titles.
The Quads division, too, provides plenty of head to heads that leave people on the edge of their seats.
A new rivalry bloomed last season between Australia's Heath Davidson and Japan's Koji Sugeno and this looks set to heat up this year, the first two tournaments of 2019 seeing them each get one win over each other.
And, as we have seen for so many seasons, the matches between Great Britain and the USA always keep people entertained when it comes to the World Team Cup, wheelchair tennis' equivalent of the Davis Cup
With British No 1 Lapthorne against America's top quad David Wagner being a match-up that always draws a crowd.
While the head to head is firmly in Wagner's favour, Lapthorne did get a big win over him at last season's end-of-year Masters during the round-robin stages, so it looks to be a rivalry that will keep on giving.
It is not all about the established names on tour, though, and as the sport continues to grow, the next generation of talent from around the world gets stronger and stronger.
Italy's Giulia Capocci will make her Grand Slam debut in the women's division at the Australian Open after a year which saw her build up quite a collection of singles and doubles titles and get a big win over world No.4 Sabine Ellerbrock at the end-of-year 2018 singles Masters in Florida, securing her a semi-final spot in her first year at the event.
In the men's division Jef Vandorpe from Belgium is one to watch this season.
He is only 17-years-old but is already ranked within the top 20 players in the world, his strength and success coming very much from the fact that he goes into each match using his on-court weapons to play his own game, even when going up against players ranked far higher than him.
And for the quads it is definitely Sam Schroders' name you should remember.
The Dutch teenager had some big wins at the end of last season, including one against world No 2 Wagner at Bath Indoor.
Already in the top 10, he is one that you can really see making his mark on the division in 2019.
You only have to watch wheelchair tennis men's doubles for a matter of minutes to be hooked.
The athleticism, skill and communication on display always provides many highlights, whatever level the competition on tour.
At the start of last season all the talk was of Great Britain's Reid and Hewett and France's Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer being the ones to beat.
But this season will throw another partnership into that mix - Sweden's Olsson and Belgium's Joachim Gerard.
The pair have already had a big win over the French pair this season at the Melbourne Open and, with some impressive results last season added to that, they have cemented their place as one of the best doubles partnerships in the men's open division.
A Grass Court Season
It is now not just Wimbledon where you will see the top athletes, including grass-court master Olsson, competing on the green stuff this year.
After a successful exhibition tournament at Queen's in 2018 you will now find an ITF1 men's wheelchair tennis tournament being played there this season.
And, at the same time, the WTA event in Birmingham will be welcoming some of the top women's players.
A major development for wheelchair tennis on the global stage also means the quads division will get a chance to showcase their skills on grass too now after the All England Lawn Tennis Club announced a singles and doubles draw will be part of The Championships from 2019.
Meaning that from this season Roland Garros is the only Slam that now does not invite the quads, those with significant loss of function in three or more limbs, to compete.
Honourable mention: Dylan Alcott's Footwear
Usually it is Roger Federer's footwear we are marvelling at but, as the Australian Open wheelchair draw begins, there is another pair of signature shoes that are making waves on court.
Dylan Alcott is one of the greatest showmen on the wheelchair tour and someone who has not only seen success on both the tennis and basketball court, but also works tirelessly to raise the profile of para-sport and encourage people to, what he calls, "normalise disability".