MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA— While it was a slightly cooler Australian Open summer to kick off the 2024 tennis season, Team Yonex had a red-hot start to the new year.
Seven different players or teams made it to the Australian Open finals across a myriad of events, while Dayana Yastremska (UKR), clad in Yonex gear and holding a Yonex racquet in her hand, made a dream run from the first round of qualifying to the main draw semi-finals, something that hadn’t been done in 45 years at the Australian Open.
Linda Noskova (CZE), who lost to Yastremska in the quarters, and Hubert Hurkacz (POL), a men's quarterfinalist, are also head-to-toe Yonex contract players. Dressed in "Wave" inspired outfits, they created a massive splash with their respective runs at Melbourne Park.
But more than anything else, what Team Yonex is most proud of is its successes in a myriad of AO events.
In the boy’s and girl’s junior divisions, some 30 percent of players used Yonex racquets – the biggest market share of any racquet brand. Both of the boy’s singles finalists, champion Rei Sakamoto (JPN) and runner-up Jan Kumstat (CZE) played with Yonex, as does Nicolai Budkov Kjaer (NOR), a semi-finalist.
On the girl’s side, Tyra Caterina Grant (USA), along with her partner Iva Jovic (USA), captured the title in doubles.
In the wheelchair division, Yonex players dominated in both the men's and women's singles events. Women's winner Diede De Groot (NED) was a double champion, capturing both singles and doubles. Her singles win was a 14th consecutive major title, and it ties her with Esther Vergeer – her Dutch countrywoman – with the all-time haul of 21 singles majors won.
Elsewhere - Jan Zielinski (POL) won his first major, claimed the mixed doubles title, and David Wagner (USA) in won in quad wheelchair doubles, bringing Team Yonex’s tally to seven wins across seven different events.
17-year-old King Tokito makes new history in Melbourne
The seventh? That would be rising teenage star Tokito Oda (JPN) in the men’s wheelchair event.
The joy that Oda expressed at the moment of victory and in his interview after showed just how big this win was for the 17-year-old. Oda, who won at Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year, said he was "as happy as I was when I won the Roland Garros and became the No.1 in the world."
The reason? It could be based on his disappointment from the US Open, when he was stunned in the first round as the top seed. But he tasted victory again in Melbourne, beating Alfie Hewett (GBR), who had ousted him in the AO final a year ago.
During his winner’s speech, Oda turned to the TV camera and said in Japanese: "When I used to watch Grand Slam wheelchair tournaments on TV, they weren't played in big arenas like this [Kia Arena]. I have been thinking about how to make wheelchair tennis more popular and play on bigger courts. I want Japanese children watching TV now to have the big dream!"
He beat Hewett 6-2, 6-4 to continue his own dream – and chase more glory so many others can only dream bigger.
Unstoppable queen continues her winning streak
Fourteen consecutive Grand Slam victories. It might sound intimidating, but De Groot has done it with hard work and meticulous preparation.
At the Australian Open, her opponent in the final was longtime rival Yui Kamiji （JPN). They had met in the final of the warm-up tournament, where Kamiji had a match point.
Kamiji, the challenger, has always used different strategies to challenge the De Groot’s stronghold on their 32-match rivalry, the Dutchwoman leading 25-7. Now Kamiji was coming at it with a hyper-aggressive style: Attack, attack, attack, especially off of the Kamiji lefty forehand.
However, each time, De Groot found an answer. She used looping balls and high bouncing spin shots to overcome Kamiji's aggression. De Groot has no intention of letting her undefeated streak come to an end, winning again, this time 7-5, 6-4.
Samurai Rei is on a roll as Rising Sun of tennis
Meet the junior tennis player with a “Samurai celebration,” Rei Sakamoto.
Two years ago at the age of 15, Sakamoto moved across the ocean from Japan to IMG Academy in Florida with the goal of becoming one of the best players in the world.
Fast forward to Melbourne, and every time he won a match at the Australian Open, he posed with his racquet raised to the sky as if it were a sword.
It’s a glimpse into the ferocious yet quirky personality of the 17-year-old, who also has a serious side: “On New Year's Day 2024, a big earthquake hit Japan,” he said in Japanese in his winner’s speech. “For those who are suffering, all we athletes can do is to bring a bright topic to them. I am glad I could do that today.”
He did just that with his close-as-can be victory over Kumstat, 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 in two hours and 11 minutes. Sakamoto is the first Japanese junior to ever win an AO title.
Official Stringer of the Australian Open
Providing the world standard of racquet stringing, the Yonex Stringing Team strung many racquets using Made-in-Japan PRECISION 9.0 machines that excel in precision stringing during their time in Melbourne.
Iva Jovic (USA) | VCORE100 [LINK]