Tennis

Australian Open: Joachim Gerard celebrates first Grand Slam wheelchair singles title

Patience, resilience and a serve that never seems to let him down in those important moments.

When Joachim Gerard hit his last ball on the way to claiming his first Grand Slam singles title with a 6-0 4-6 6-4 victory over Alfie Hewett we were reminded of all of the qualities that fellow players on the tour and fans have come to respect about his game over the years.

Five years on from his first appearance in the final of a major, and as game, set and match was called after a forehand from his opponent went long, he threw his racket high in the air and let out a roar of relief that could probably be heard along the full length of the Yarra River.

The realisation of finally achieving the one goal he’s been working towards for years now hitting home.

“I just wanted to let everything out because I’ve waited so long for this title and I had to show that with my roar,” he told Sky Sports.

“I think on those first six match points I didn’t give myself the opportunity to win the tournament. I kept making mistakes. But there was real happiness when that last ball went out.”

Also, a four-time Singles Masters winner, multiple Grand Slam doubles champion, and Paralympic bronze medallist, many would argue that this moment has been a long time coming for the Belgian, who is known for the powerful game he brings to the court with his shots, particularly his bullying backhand that can force any opponent into submission.

But there was one element of his game that Gerard believed he needed to conquer before his dream of becoming Belgium’s first wheelchair tennis singles Grand Slam champion could become reality.

Congratulations to our men's wheelchair singles champion 🏆@JoachimGerard claims his first Grand Slam singles title with a 6-0 4-6 6-4 win over Hewett! 🇧🇪👏#AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/vVe2fqHN7x

“I thought I was ready in my head, I really thought I was, but up until now the work that I was doing on the mental side of my game was not enough,” he said.

“I’m working with a new tennis coach who is helping me to be ready on every point, not just physically but mentally. That’s why I’m getting better and better every tournament and that’s one of the reasons why today I could finally lift the trophy.”

It isn’t just his current team though whose input he recognises in getting to this point in his career.

Long-time friend, coach and mentor Marc Grandjean, who worked with Gerard from 2006 until just before Grandjean’s death in 2019 was also in his thoughts as he lifted his first singles trophy at a major.

Gerard said: “I didn’t speak about him during the speech but he’s there. He’s there in my heart. In less than a few days it marks the two-year anniversary since he died, so to do this now means a lot for me.”

And now that first Slam singles title is in the bag he’s hoping to use it as a springboard for more success.

He added: “It’s the goal but I can’t get too confident because Alfie is there, Shingo [Kunieda] is there, Gordon [Reid], Gustavo [Fernandez], Nico [Langmann] and Stephane [Houdet] are there. There are a lot of good players right behind me.

“And today I may have been the winner, but at the next tournament or Grand Slam it could be somebody else.

“I want to be World No 1 and if I want that I need to win more than one Grand Slam a year and not only those, there are Super Series and other ITFs where I need to perform too.

“So I just need to keep practising, training and working on things to make that happen.”

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