Israeli Guy Sasson’s confidence-boosting winning streak on debut at the Australian Open last week, which saw him become a quad wheelchair tennis singles and doubles finalist, was impressive enough.
But it was the love and affection being channelled his way from fans in the stands that made it a life-changing week that he will always treasure, and in his words, “an extraordinary experience” that’s left him “already counting the moments until I am back next year, to meet you all again”.
Sasson, 43, suffered a spinal injury in a skiing accident in 2015 and, after spending a year in a rehabilitation hospital, was only able to stand, and walk slowly, using a brace and a cane.
A natural athlete, he turned to wheelchair tennis, playing in the open category, until experiencing some impairment in his upper body, when he reclassified to quad.
He demonstrated his potential in that category last September in his first grand slam, the US Open, winning his opening round singles match.
But after his 2024 Australian Open performances, he knows he can now match it with the world’s best.
In doubles, he partnered with South African Donald Ramphadi, advancing to the final with two wins before losing a thriller to Britain’s Andy Lapthorne and American David Wagner 4-6, 6-3 [2-10].
In the singles draw, which increased from eight to 16 players, Sasson won his first two matches in straight sets, and in the semis, beat the top seed, Dutchman Niels Vink, for the first time, by 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, although Vink became unwell in the third set.
After that victory, Sasson described Vink as “a guy that really pushes me every day to work hard, and try to be better”.
“I’m relatively new in the quad division, and I’d been through a lot in the last year, so this win means a lot.”
Facing 24-year-old Dutchman Sam Schroder in the final in Kia Arena last Saturday – the second seed, who had won the previous two Australian Open quad singles titles – was always going to be a steep challenge.
And despite Sasson losing 3-6 3-6, the match was closer than the scoreline suggests.
Both players kept breaking each other’s serve in the first half of the opening set, and at 3-3, a failure by Sasson to win a hard-earned break point in a game that went to four deuces, proved costly, with Schroder able to hold, and win the next two games.
The Dutchman raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set through upping his first serves in percentage, firing winners on both wings, and making Sasson cover lots of ground.
Schroder hit 31 winners compared to Sasson’s 17, but the Israeli was able to apply pressure towards the end, by reducing his opponent’s lead to just one break of serve.
Throughout the tournament, Sasson was cheered on by throngs of Israelis and Jewish Melburnians, many of whom held Israeli flags and chanted, “Am Yisrael Chai.”
After congratulating Schroder in his post-match interview, Sasson thanked the crowd, describing their level of support as “something amazing”.
He also reserved special thanks for his coach Ofri Lankri, his wife Aya, and their four children.
Sasson was so deeply moved, he posted a video message on Monday to thank Melbourne’s Jewish community for their “endless support over the last week”.
“Unfortunately I was unable to personally meet each and every one of you, but I felt your presence outside of the court, between matches, and especially when I was on the court,” he said.
“These days, it is especially so moving [to see], and I don’t think I would have achieved what I did if you didn’t attend, cheer loudly for me and support me.”