New York, USA, 9 September 2022 | Matt Trollope

Australia’s Saalim Naser has enjoyed a win in the opening round of the inaugural junior wheelchair Grand Slam tournament at the US Open.

The junior world No.6 beat Briton Joshua Johns in straight sets today to set up a semifinal meeting with top seed Ben Bartram, also of Great Britain.

It is the continuation of a memorable season for the 18-year-old Melburnian, who earlier in 2022 teamed with Riley Dumsday and Benjamin Wenzel to clinch the World Team Cup title for Australia.

With Australian doubles star Storm Sanders – who is through to both the mixed and women’s doubles semifinals in New York – watching on from the side of the court, Naser executed big serves and groundstrokes to complete victory in under an hour.

“Yeah, I loved it (the support). Looked up to her when I won the points,” Naser told after the 6-3 6-3 triumph.

Serving in the seventh game with scores locked at 3-3, Naser faced a break point but saved it thanks to a succession of heavy backhands, eventually ending the point with a backhand winner up the line.

It swung the momentum in his favour, and he went on to win four straight games.

The pair traded breaks in the second set until the eighth game, which Naser won to arrive at 6-3 5-3.

Johns served to stay in the match, but dished up two double faults, and on match point sent a forehand into the net to confirm victory for the Aussie.

“It is very cool (to be in the semifinals). Started off playing really well. He played really good as well, but yeah, just got the better of him today,” Naser said.

“I was very nervous going into the match. But as soon as my serves were going in, I was getting shots in, it went away.

“(Bartram is) a great player. I’ve played him before. I’m going to have to play my best tennis to win.”

Naser identifies his serve and heavy groundstrokes as his strengths, weapons he has developed with the help of Greg Crump, Tennis Australia’s National Wheelchair Development Squad Coach.

Since the beginning of the year he has trained full-time at Melbourne’s National Tennis Centre alongside Australian wheelchair pros Heath Davidson and Martyn Dunn, under coach Francois Vogelsberger.

While the US Open is just his seventh event of the season, Naser has attempted to replicate competition with regular match play in training against his two more experienced countrymen.

He is reaping the benefits of this training, recently cracking the men’s top 100 wheelchair rankings.

“Saalim is an absolute gun. He’s really good. It’s not going to be long until he starts smoking me. Which I’m probably not going to enjoy too much,” laughed Davidson, quad wheelchair singles world No.5.

“Coming from Australia, we don’t really have the opportunities to travel as much as the European kids. So super proud of him.

“He’s super fast, which is good, because he’s as quick as the Dutch boys (his rivals Sam Schroder and Nils Vink), so helps me out a lot.

“Just a good kid, and really enjoy spending time with him and playing tennis.”

Naser, who most enjoys watching Nick Kyrgios play, is making his first trip to New York, in his final year of junior competition.

Despite struggling with homesickness, he plans to travel more and contest more tournaments in 2023 as he continues to build towards a successful professional tennis career.

“I’m getting used to (the homesickness) now, and I’ve been better with it. (It helps to) Facetime parents, Facetime my siblings and stuff, it’s pretty much the only thing that I do,” he said.

“It’s been an amazing week, coming into the tournament.”

He plays his US Open semifinal against Bartram tomorrow in New York.

Aussies in action – US Open

Boys’ wheelchair singles, quarterfinals
Saalim Naser (AUS) d Joshua Johns (GBR) 6-3 6-3

Quad wheelchair doubles, semifinals
[2] Robert Shaw (CAN)/David Wagner (USA) d Heath Davidson (AUS)/Andy Lapthorne (GBR) 6-1 6-1

Boys’ wheelchair singles, semifinals
Saalim Naser (AUS) v [1] Ben Bartram (GBR)

Boys’ wheelchair doubles, semifinals
Saalim Naser (AUS)/Ivar van Rijt (NED) v [2] Andrew Penney (GBR)/Maximilian Taucher (AUT)

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