As a three-time Paralympic gold medallist and multiple-Grand Slam champion, one would say there are not many more things Japan’s former singles and doubles world No.1 Shingo Kunieda can achieve.
But the arguably best ever men’s wheelchair tennis player is highly motivated to add more titles to his crowded trophy cabinet, especially after Tokyo was selected as host city for the 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Competing in front of my home crowd at a Paralympics will be the most exciting and memorable moment in my career,” said the 33-year-old. “I played the World Team Cup in Tokyo last year, which drew a 4,000-strong crowd. I was thrilled to play in front of them.”
Kunieda claimed his first Paralympic gold in doubles alongside Satoshi Saida at Athens 2004. He followed that up with two singles golds at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 and two doubles bronze.
“I imagine myself winning a fourth Paralympic title, especially after Tokyo was chosen host city for the 2020 Games,” he said. “It will be a good opportunity to promote Para sports. I hope every venue will be full and we, the Paralympians, can make audiences feel excited.”
Earlier this month, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said “I believe putting weight on hosting a successful Paralympics is more important than a successful Olympics.” Kunieda added: “We, as Paralympic athletes, need to be strong enough to draw the audience like Olympics. This is the message to Paralympians.”
After some months far from the courts due to an injury, Kunieda made a successful comeback this year, qualifying for the decisive rounds of several major competitions.
“Coming back from an injury is really tough. I needed to overcome fear. But I also felt the fun to play tennis again because my performance is getting better day-by-day,” he said.
If he continues on this recovery path, Kunieda will most likely fight to win more Grand Slams and return to the world No.1 spot. “If I keep working hard, I am confident I can achieve both things.
“In the short-term, I want to win another Grand Slam. And, in the long-term, another Paralympic gold.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place between 25 August-6 September. More information is available on Tokyo 2020’s website.