On a day where the mercury hit 35 degrees, many would have wilted on the outside courts at Melbourne Park, but French wheelchair tennis world number one Stephane Houdet was right in his element.
“My skin was burning, but I said to the French media that I’m like a lizard, so I love to play in Australia. I love that kind of condition when it’s very warm,” he said.
The 42-year-old Houdet, who lost his leg in a car accident in 1996, is through to the Australian Open 2013 final following a gruelling 6-1 3-6 6-3 over Dutchman Ronald Vink.
The world No.4, Vink looked the stronger midway through the match, but Houdet regrouped to close it out 6-3 in the third with a forehand winner down the line.
Aside from thriving in the heat, Houdet, who is staying in the seaside suburb of St. Kilda, is loving the courts and his coastal location.
“That’s my second home for a while,” he says.
“It’s always a pleasure to go there with the beach in front of the hotel and the cafe – we go there for breakfast. We also went there to celebrate when we won the doubles a few years ago.
“It’s snowing in Paris now and about minus-seven. (Here) the sky is blue, the courts are blue, everything is blue. It’s like the full happiness you receive at the beginning of the year. When you stay a long time in winter, not as much light, it can be difficult.
“The courts are fast, they are completely even and that’s perfect for the wheelchair, so I really love the speed of the game on these courts.”
Houdet will meet Japan’s Shingo Kunieda in the decider. The second seed made it through to the final in quicker fashion with a 6-0 6-2 win over Swede Stefan Olsson in just 46 minutes.
Houdet and Kunieda met on two big stage twice in 2012. Kunieda claimed the Paralympic gold medal, while Houdet was the victor in the French Open decider.
“It will be a pleasure (to play Kunieda) ... we love to play each other,” Houdet said.
“It’s a good show and good entertainment. He’s very fast with the chair and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Evidently a keen follower of the ATP tour, Houdet drew parallels between last Sunday’s Australian Open fourth round five-hour marathon between Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka and his upcoming match with Kunieda.
“It’s always a big fight just to win a point, like when you play Novak. If you want to win a point you need to make a winner because if not, it’s going to come back. So it’s almost the same with Shingo. But I can be like Stan, try all the time ... and don’t miss the last one.
The women’s wheelchair final will also be a battle of the top two seeds after Aniek van Koot and Sabine Ellerbrock both won their semifinals.
The 22-year-old Dutchwoman came from behind to topple Marjolein Buis 1-6 7-6(6) 6-3, while the German world No.2 defeated Lucy Shuker in straight sets, 7-6(1) 7-5.