Shingo Kunieda (Men’s/No. 1 world rank…">

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Introducing Japan’s Top Wheelchair Tennis Players (Part I - Men’s -)

Japan, home to Shingo Kunieda (Men’s/No. 1 world ranking) and Yui Kamiji (Women’s/No. 2 world ranking) is a wheelchair tennis powerhouse. However, Kunieda and Kamiji are not the only wheelchair tennis players that are expected to do well at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Here, we will introduce the top wheelchair tennis players you’ll want to keep an eye on for 2020, both in the Men’s and Women’s as well as the Quad Class events.


Takashi Sanada – “First I need to get to a Grand Slam”

No. 9 World Ranking
Competed in the London 2012 Paralympics and the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Won all of his matches in the Singles event at the World Team Cup, and played a decisive role in the Japan national team’s victory. Won a silver medal in the Singles event and a gold medal in the Doubles event at the Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games.

“I know I need to get up to No. 7 at the least, since it would qualify me directly for the Grand Slam tournaments. In order to try to do that, I’ve started practicing with [able-bodied] student tennis players in my training. Younger able-bodied players have much in common with the top wheelchair tennis players, and playing with them has taught me a lot.”

Born on June 8, 1985 (33 years old) / From Tochigi Prefecture / Above-knee amputation of the right leg due to a traffic accident

Satoshi Saita – “My goal—to compete in the Paralympics for the seventh time”

No. 28 World Ranking
Pioneer of the wheelchair tennis world, who has competed in six consecutive Paralympics, starting with the Atlanta Paralympics. Won a gold medal in the Doubles event in Athens, and bronze medals in the Doubles event in Beijing and Rio.

“I went through a period where I tried to put more spin on my balls and make less mistakes, but ended up performing worse than before. Now that I’ve been able to improve that, I feel I’m getting up to a good condition again. Since my motive for not retiring has been the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, my goal is to compete in Tokyo—my seventh Paralympics.”

Born on March 26, 1972 (46 years old) / From Mie Prefecture / Through-hip amputation of the left leg due to illness

Kohei Suzuki – “It’s fun to play against the world’s best”

No. 12 World Ranking
Currently considered the third best player in Japan after Kunieda and Sanada. Competed in the Asia qualifying tournament of the World Team Cup as part of the Japan national team, where he won two Singles matches and contributed to Japan’s advancement to the tournament itself. He also made it to the semi-finals for the first time in the Masters*.

“I’ve gotten up to No. 11 in the world rankings, which is the highest I’ve ever been, but I haven’t been able to break the top 10, so that’ll be my next goal. [When I played with one of the top foreign players] I was met with returns that were a lot harder to hit than I’d expected. It’s fun to be able to think that I still have a lot to learn.”

July 21, 1992 (26 years old) / From Shizuoka Prefecture / Had left leg amputated more than halfway up the knee due to a car accident

* Masters: The highest-tier tournament in Japan; to qualify, players must be in the top eight for Men’s/Women’s Singles, or in the top four for the Quad Class at the end of the annual season

Yoshinobu Fujimoto – “I want to expand my play repertoire”

No. 21 World Ranking
Competed in the Beijing 2008 Paralympics. Won two Doubles matches in the Asia qualifying tournament of the World Team Cup in February 2018 and contributed to Japan’s advancement to the tournament itself. Became part of the Japan national team at the last minute, and supported Kunieda and Sanada behind the scenes.

“This year’s World Team Cup was a great experience for me. Starting next year, I want to keep my ranking in the top 20, with my goal for next year to get in the top 15. To do that, I feel I need to expand my play repertoire so I can be more accurate and adapt to any situation.”

Born in May 13, 1976 (42 years old) / From Tokushima Prefecture / Spinal cord injury due to an accident with gymnastics equipment

Daisuke Arai – “I want to build my game with backhand, which is my strength”

No. 42 World Ranking
Played soft tennis in his middle- and high-school years, using a prosthetic leg. Began playing wheelchair tennis at 26 years old. Advanced to the semi-finals in last year’s Masters.

“I wanted to break top 20 in the world rankings this season, but I struggled a bit in the latter half of the season and ended up here in the 40s. I think I’ve gotten better at the technical aspects, but it comes in waves, and there are times when I can’t get out my own plays. My goal for next year is to break the top 20.”

Born on May 14, 1988 (30 years old) / From Gifu Prefecture / Congenital tibial deficiency of the right lower extremity

Haruya Mizukoshi – “I’m trying to get to where I can make flat serves and get aces”

No. 91 World Ranking
Began playing wheelchair tennis at 15 years old. Competes in tournaments away from home, etc. with the approval of his company. Trains on weekdays before work, etc.

“I was ranked 6th in Japan, but 91st in the world. I want to practice more, train my body more, and aim for the kind of powerful, high-speed tennis where I can pound out flat serves to get aces.”

December 21, 1989 (28 years old) / From Aichi Prefecture / Congenital spina bifida

Yoshikuni Shibayama – “I went back to the basics and all uncertainty disappeared”

No. 137 World Ranking
One of the long-time Japanese wheelchair tennis players. Began playing wheelchair tennis at 29 years old. Trains about two hours a day at nighttime, on the weekends, etc.

“This year, with my new coach, I feel I’m doing more basic training. Going back to the basics has really helped me get rid of any uncertainty during my matches. I think this might have also led to me being able to compete in the Masters this year.”

Born January 29, 1965 (53 years old) / From Aichi Prefecture / Spinal cord injury due to a car accident

Ryoichi To – “My priority is having fun without getting injured”

No. 138 World Ranking
A long-time wheelchair tennis player who competed in the Athens 2004 Paralympics, and who is a regular at the Masters. Advanced to the semi-finals in the 2016 Masters.

“I play tennis for my health. I just want to enjoy myself and not get injured [in this tournament as well].”

Born March 17, 1961 (57 years old) / From Fukuoka Prefecture / Spinal cord injury due to a fall

* Rankings are as of December 3, 2018
* This article was written based on interviews at the 28th All-Japan Selected Wheelchair Tennis Masters, held on December 7-9, 2018

text by Tomoko Sakai
photo by Haruo Wanibe

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