Yui Kamiji is one of Japan’s biggest Paralympic names. Hotly tipped for a medal, the wheelchair tennis star has been in fine form as Tokyo 2020 approaches and looks destined to become one of the faces of these Games.
“I think I’m ready for the Paralympics, and I’m so much looking forward to it because it is being held in my home country,” Kamiji said. “I love that the Paralympics puts various different sports competitions together in one place. It leads to precious moments, and you get to know athletes from other sports and other countries.”
On a hot streak in early 2020, the all-conquering left-hander could have been forgiven for feeling frustrated when the event was postponed. Rather, she took it as a positive. “I was thinking, one more year to improve my tennis was given to me. My 2020 season did start off very good, winning the tournaments in Australia. I need to make sure I can give my best performance. I have been training at home, but my goal hasn’t changed. Gold is a must.”
Kamiji began playing tennis at age 11 after her elder sister suggested she try the sport. By 20, she had reached No.1 in the world rankings. A high point was in 2014 when she won all the doubles grand slams in partnership with British sensation Jordanne Whiley, and the singles titles at Roland Garros and the US Open.
Now 27, she has been there or thereabouts at the top of the game ever since. Kamiji won the Australian Open in 2017 and 2020, the French again in 2017, 2018 and 2020, the US Open one more time in 2017, and a thrilling treble of Wimbledon titles from 2017 to 2019, with more doubles titles to boast.
She took bronze in the singles and doubles at Rio 2016, but London four years earlier remains close to her heart. “At the 2012 Paralympics, I really enjoyed the Opening Ceremony, and wow, to the performance there. Everything was a first for me in London, and I was simply glad I was there. Also, it made me consider my future as a professional player.”
But it is Down Under where she has felt at her best. “My biggest moment so far has been winning the 2017 Australian Open, my first time. It was the first Grand Slam I played in, so it has special meaning for me. I also have fond memories of my victory over Jiske Griffioen at that tournament.”
Her rivalry with the Netherlands continues. As well as Griffioen, Kamiji has enjoyed a long-running tussle with current world No.1 and recent Wimbledon winner Diede de Groot. She constantly disrupts Dutch supremacy, and is the first non-Dutch woman to win the coveted Masters title.
Her recipe for Tokyo success? Not to over-think matters. “I need to practise hard enough to be ready for the Games. Rather than thinking to win the gold, each point in each round is the most important thing to me.”
She may be taking it one step at a time, but Kamiji has no doubt about the impact the Games can have. “We have pride as the host country, so we are very determined. I hope Tokyo creates the opportunity to promote wheelchair tennis. I love Tokyo because it is at the centre of all the trends.”